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Commentaries and editorials

Public Power Stands United in Questioning
BPA's Role in CRSO Agreement

by Steve Ernst
Clearing Up, February 16, 2024

"At the heart of our petition is the principle of transparency and
fairness in BPA's decision-making and regulatory proceedings."

-- Scott Simms, CEO and executive director of Public Power Council

Water pours through the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River east of  Pasco. It is one of four lower Snake River dams covered in an environmental review that will look at whether removing the dams is the best option to improve salmon runs. Northwest public power utilities have united in questioning the Bonneville Power Administration's participation in the U.S. government agreement and accompanying memorandum of understanding that's paused litigation over Columbia River System Operations.

Northwest Requirements Utilities on Feb. 12 filed a petition with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking for a review of BPA's statutory authority to participate in the agreement, which calls for BPA to spend an additional $300 million in ratepayer money for salmon recovery efforts. NRU says the process lacked both transparency and accountability, which are cornerstones of BPA's decision-making process.

"NRU is filing this Petition to send a strong and unwavering message to Bonneville and this Administration that the process leading to the stay of the CRSO litigation, as well as the drafting and execution of the accompanying MOU, was unacceptable," said Zabyn Towner, executive director of NRU. "Public power needs to be at the table, not excluded from the room. We sincerely appreciate PPC's leadership on this issue and NRU is pleased to help provide a united front for public power with this litigation."

Northwest Requirements Utilities v. Bonneville Power Administration [24-745] follows a similar filing on Feb. 8 by the Public Power Council. Together, the utility organizations represent about 94 percent of public power utilities in the Northwest.

Both petitions are critical of the lack of public process prior to BPA's execution of the MOU and say they have yet to see any meaningful explanation of why BPA signed the MOU or how the agency intends to manage any commitments made therein within the context of its statutory obligations.

"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of stakeholder engagement and transparent public processes when developing a Memorandum of Understanding like this," Todd Simmons, president of NRU and general manager of Tillamook People's Utility District, said in a statement. "Further, while we support many of the goals of the MOU, including fish and wildlife restoration and the regional development of new non-emitting resources, as with BPA's other mandates these goals must be accomplished in a manner consistent with the Northwest Power Act, and perhaps more importantly, should not be unfairly paid for by BPA ratepayers."

In Public Power Council Inc. v. Bonneville Power Administration [24-687], PPC asks the court to review BPA's "final actions and decisions . . . in executing and implementing the Memorandum of Understanding" and other documents included in a joint Dec. 14 request for a stay in the litigation for up to 10 years. Other documents filed with the stay request were the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and U.S. government commitments with an appendix that spells out hydroelectric operations from 2024 through 2033.

"At the heart of our petition is the principle of transparency and fairness in BPA's decision-making and regulatory proceedings," Scott Simms, CEO and executive director of PPC, said in a statement. "BPA's failure to publicly disclose and explain the MOU and its terms under this U.S. Government agreement underscores the need for judicial oversight to uphold the interests of public power utilities and the communities they serve.

We are pleased to have NRU join forces with us on this critically important matter."

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon on Feb. 8 granted a stay through Dec. 13, 2028, of litigation in the CRSO lawsuit.

"We are tracking these legal challenges. We can't comment on pending litigation, but we are coordinating with the [U.S.] Department of Justice regarding these matters," John Hairston, CEO and administrator of BPA, said during the agency's first-quarter business review meeting.

Steve Ernst
Public Power Stands United in Questioning BPA's Role in CRSO Agreement
Clearing Up, February 16, 2024

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