McMorris Rodgers Vows to
by Jeremy P. Jacobs
"For me, dam breaching is off the table,"
McMorris Rodgers told E&E News last year.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' (R-Wash.) rising to ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee next Congress elevates one of the staunchest supporters of some of the country's most controversial dams into a key position in the GOP's leadership.
McMorris Rodgers' eastern Washington district contains some of the hydropower dams on the Lower Snake River that conservationists argue hinder the migration of the region's iconic salmon and are one reason why they are on the verge of extinction. Those advocates say time is running out and the dams should come out.
Any solution that includes tearing down the dams would run into stiff opposition from McMorris Rodgers. She has been a steadfast supporter of the politically charged impoundments, which also provide navigation for barges that ship the region's wheat and other crops to the coast.
"For me, dam breaching is off the table," McMorris Rodgers told E&E News last year. She added that the Columbia River hydropower system is "really at the foundation of our economy."
"Bottom line: Dams and fish coexist," she said (Greenwire, Sept. 3, 2019).
The dams have been the subject of decades of litigation, and environmentalists have frequently prevailed; on five occasions, a federal judge has struck down federal management of the dams for not doing enough to protect the fish.
Recently, the Trump administration released a new, court-ordered environmental assessment that once again opted against dam breaching.
That analysis from the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration also acknowledged that fully addressing the river's problems "will also require additional regional actions" (E&E News PM, July 31). Environmentalists have said they plan to take the proposal to court, again (Greenwire, Oct. 26).
As a result of that analysis, focus has turned to the region's states. And, in fact, the governors of four Pacific Northwest states announced a new effort last October that appeared to acknowledge a stalemate at the federal agencies and in Congress.
Govs. Kate Brown (D) of Oregon, Brad Little (R) of Idaho, Steve Bullock (D) of Montana and Jay Inslee (D) of Washington released a "joint state of collaboration" calling for a new "collaborative framework" (Greenwire, Oct. 13).
McMorris Rodgers, who previously served as chair of the House Republican Conference, has previously authored legislation aimed at streamlining permitting for hydropower dams and has touted the importance of hydropower power in meeting the region's climate goals.
She said in a statement that the dams will remain a focus for her. "Our hydropower system helped build the Pacific Northwest and protecting the Columbia and Snake River system has long been a priority of mine," McMorris Rodgers said.
"As the Republican Leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee next Congress, I will continue to promote all-the-above American energy independence and support clean energy innovation without government mandates," said the statement.
"We will also build on our efforts to promote the use of commonsense clean energy by streamlining relicensing for hydro projects."
Separately, she told E&E News last week that there is potential for generating more hydropower at dams.
"We can double hydropower electricity in America simply by investing in improved turbines and converting dams to be hydroelectric," she said. "Only 3% of dams actually produce electricity. So there's huge potential to unleash more clean, renewable, reliable and affordable electricity" (E&E Daily, Dec. 4).
McMorris Rodgers has also supported the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that sells the power from the dams.
Bonneville has faced increasing financial strain as the price of renewable energies -- like wind and solar -- has dropped as low or lower than its hydropower, which had been the cheapest energy in the country for decades (Greenwire, Nov. 27, 2019).
In that respect, she may not offer much of a different perspective than her predecessor as ranking member on Energy and Commerce, retiring Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who also largely backed the hydropower system and Bonneville.
Environmentalists said having McMorris Rodgers as ranking member should bring attention to the issue. And they largely declined to say the Republican, who has a 4% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, could present an obstacle to their agenda in the next Congress.
"We share McMorris Rodgers' commitment to addressing climate change, keeping clean energy affordable and raising the standard of living for rural communities," said Giulia Good Stefani, a senior attorney based in Oregon for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We think you can do that and restore salmon."
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