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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon, Water, Energy Policies
Should Be Considered Together

by Sara Patton
The News Tribune, August 26, 2009

The News Tribune raised a critical issue in its Aug. 21 editorial, "Snake River dams: Don't forget the carbon."

The fact is that Washington citizens working to ensure that wild salmon remain in our rivers are equally committed to a carbon-free energy future. The good news is that we can affordably save salmon and cut climate emissions while creating a wealth of good jobs in both the energy and salmon sectors.

Let's start with salmon. Global warming is already taking a toll on endangered Columbia and Snake river wild salmon, with worse to come. Less than a month ago, several thousand young salmon died at McNary Dam due to sustained temperatures greatly exceeding 70 degrees in the water behind that dam and back upstream in the Snake.

In an April 2008 report, "A Great Wave Rising," fisheries scientist Jim Martin and global warming expert Patty Glick detail the harm warming does to salmon and offer solutions. Their report spotlights the unique value of Snake River salmon, which enjoy by far the highest, coldest, largest and most intact spawning habitat in the 48 states, spanning eastern Oregon, central Idaho and a bit of Eastern Washington.

Few salmon reach that habitat, however, due to high mortalities caused by federal dams downstream. Removing the four lower Snake River dams, the report concludes, would vastly increase the number of salmon able to reach and use that high, cold, healthy habitat, giving Snake River stocks one of the best chances of any West Coast salmon to survive and adapt to global warming.

That's why the American Fisheries Society's Western division, on behalf of 3,500 scientists, recently wrote the Obama administration urging renewed examination of lower Snake dam removal.

On energy, The News Tribune is right that the lower Snake dams produce carbon-free energy. If we remove them to save salmon, we must replace their energy with energy efficiency and new clean renewable sources. The NW Energy Coalition and most groups advocating salmon recovery support dam removal only if the replacement energy does not contribute to global warming.

This April, the coalition released a major study, "Bright Future: How to keep the lights on, jobs growing, goods moving and salmon swimming in the Northwest."

The report looks at the Northwest's total climate and electricity challenge and documents the availability of more than three times the affordable clean energy (both energy efficiency and renewable energy) needed to meet all new load growth in the region, responsibly wean ourselves from all coal-fueled power, begin electrifying our transportation fleets, and replace the lower Snake dams' energy.

Developing that energy means more jobs at wind farms and solar panel manufacturing companies and in enhancing the transmission grid; more jobs installing energy-saving materials and technologies in our homes and businesses; more jobs resulting from consumers' and businesses' energy bill savings. These will be secure jobs that can't be outsourced overseas.

Meanwhile, replacing the power from the four Lower Snake River dams will both save and create fishing jobs. The Northwest commercial and sport fishing industries have endured years of decline. Restoring salmon fits perfectly into a plan to cleanly power our economic future.

Of course it won't be easy, but our analysis shows it can be done. Many of our findings already have been independently corroborated by researchers at the region's official power planning agency, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Our region's people, businesses and utilities have a history of energy efficiency and renewable energy achievements far outstripping "experts'" predictions. We will continue to do so.

As we ponder The News Tribune's timely challenge, we should focus on making the right policy choices for energy, salmon and water - not separately, but as a thoroughly interrelated process.

We can decide as a region both to restore our treasured wild salmon and to realize a bright, clean energy future. Let's make that decision and demand that our elected officials, energy experts and salmon experts act on it.

Sara Patton is executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, a region-wide alliance of more than 110 community and environmental organizations, publicly and investor-owned utilities, faith groups, unions and clean energy businesses. The coalition is headquartered in Seattle with staff in Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
Salmon, Water, Energy Policies Should Be Considered Together
The News Tribune, August 26, 2009

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