Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, proposed a bill to save our "endangered" dams August 1, 2012. The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition recently dubbed his bill "the worst dam bill ever." While it is the worst damn bill for the survival of wild salmon and wild steelhead, especially in the Snake River Basin. In fact, if passed, it guarantees their extinction. But as far as bills go for dams, this has got to be the best dam bill ever, which is why it has to be stopped.
We have known, long before we built dam one on the Columbia River or the Snake River, that dams will kill off our fisheries. Congressman Hastings is running around claiming that our dams are endangered, but they are not. In just about any year since 1989 (actually earlier but why go farther back?), there are more dams in the Columbia/Snake river basins than there are wild or natural origin Redfish Lake sockeye salmon. The dams aren't endangered because Elwha, Glines Canyon and Condit dams were removed last year. But Congressman Hastings is going to work hard to make people think that the dams are endangered long before they ever are.
If anyone doubts me, it took more than two decades to remove the Martha Creek irrigation dam in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. They are removing it this month. It hadn't been used for decades and they are just getting around to removing it now. This was a small irrigation dam that blocked steelhead from the tributary to the lower Columbia River. The dams aren't endangered, the salmon are. I can't say it more clearly.
I still believe that facts matter, and if this argument were fact based, Congressman Hastings would never have had the nerve to propose this bill. Lucky for him it's 2012, an election year, where facts really don't matter. In an election year, everyone just pulls something over their eyes, holds their nose, and votes for whoever they think won't screw things up anymore than they are now. This is another reason why the dams aren't endangered, adherence to the status quo. Change scares people and even though those dams constituted a huge change for our rivers and especially for our wild anadromous fish, through the 2012 lens, most people would see dam breaching on the lower Snake River as the kind of change that might be too uncomfortable to them. Regardless of the facts that those dams only produce 4 percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest, power that can easily be replaced today. Regardless of the fact that 13 farms use the water those dams back up for irrigation. Yes, only 13 farms that encompass 37,000 acres, so they aren't little farms and they have great sway. Even though they could add some pipe and still get their water from a free flowing river. Breaching the lower Snake dams also would be too radical a change because people still believe that the port at Lewiston actually pays its way, regardless of the fact that it is a huge drain on property taxpayers and taxpayers in general and does not pay its own way as its business keeps shrinking and also keeps shifting to trucking and rail because the port at Tacoma is a far better port than the port at Portland for international shipping, which is where the lion share of the products that go through Lewiston are going anyway. So even though breaching those four lower Snake River dams would in reality not be such a big change, they are going to stay much longer than anyone will want them to.
Historically, northeast Pacific salmon could be categorized as 56-65 percent going to Alaskan streams, 19-26 percent going to British Columbia streams and 15-16 percent going to Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California streams. We have built a lot of dams, there are more than 70 dams in the Columbia River and its tributaries, and today the makeup of the northeast Pacific salmon returns is 81-90 percent returning to Alaskan streams, 8-17 percent to British Columbia streams and 1 percent to streams in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. What happened to cause that? A lot of things, but dams stand out as the primary culprit today.
We've already lost at least 106 major native and wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the others are either endangered, threatened and all have some risk assessment assigned to them in relation to their extinction.
Congressman Hastings' bill is nothing more than a bill that will ensure the extinction of every wild run of salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin. I could go further, the bill will ensure far more extinctions in wild salmon runs than just half of the Columbia River Basin in the Snake.
Hastings bill has no quarter for wild salmon or wild steelhead, it even attacks spill (a lifeline for dwindling stocks of wild fish, not a savoir but at least a respirator for them). The bill would allow any federal agency to put a stop to spill. The Bonneville Power Administration would do that soon after the bill's passage. They illegally account for all the water that they can't have go through a turbine as a fish and wildlife cost today (they do this without any legal standing, without a water right in the Columbia River Basin, but still they do this and spend ratepayer money to do so, which logically means they are doing something they aren't supposed to and having their customers pay a higher rate). They are using ratepayer dollars to account for something they have not been mandated to do nor have any right to claim. This bill would codify that illegal practice, making it legal. The BPA would point to some gas bubble death in one or two fish or even 20 fish and they would say "we've got to end spill." I would like a friend of wild salmon to add an amendment to the bill that allows any agency, tribe, conservation group or citizen who feels the dams are killing endangered fish be allowed to have the four lower Snake dams breached. If we are going to empower federal agencies, like Congressman Hastings wants to, then let's empower everyone. This is a government of, by and for the people and rather than allow Congressman Hastings to take power away from every citizen and empower various federal agencies, I think my amendment would solve that serious threat to the constitutional republic with a strong democratic tradition in which we still all live in today.
The bill also prohibits any federal money from being spent on removing, partially removing, or even studying the removal of any dam in the United States (public or private) that currently generates or at one time generated hydropower (without explicit approval from Congress). This is unnecessary, but it was written this way as a direct assault on Judge Redden's legal direction from last year when he told the agencies currently presiding over the extinction of wild runs of Snake River salmon and steelhead that they need to study dam breaching in the lower Snake River. It is unnecessary because the only way those four federal dams will ever be breached is through an act of Congress with a willing president signing it into law. No court can order the breaching of those dams. It simply is beyond the power of any court of law to do so. So, this is entirely unnecessary verbage that needs to be stricken from this bill. It's not needed, hey, if a court could have ordered the breaching of those dams, trust me, it would have been ordered five or six times by now. The courts don't have that kind of authority, only Congress does.
The bill also prevents any federal money from being spent on dam removal mitigation or restoration measures (without explicit approval from Congress). We know that the removal of dams will mean there will be lots and lots of mitigation in the offing. Sediment plumes burying salmon spawning grounds will be a reality, as we already know that the sediment behind Lower Granite Dam is enough to have a dredging operation until 2074 just to keep downtown Lewiston from being flooded. To me, this is a petty provision. This seems like an underhanded way of trying to take back any successes in the restoration of salmon runs where dams have been removed. And if his bill passed, it wouldn't be needed because I don't foresee many dams being breached by Congress if this bill became law.
The bill would prevent any federal funding for important energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and initiatives proposed by the Department of Energy. I seriously do not know what, beyond my cynical and probably accurate view that most Republican lawmakers are in the pocket of the dinosaurs of energy and many Democrats are too, but I seriously do not know why any sensible person would be against a broadening of our energy portfolio, which is exactly what this bill is. My entire life has been spent with the backdrop of a pending energy crisis on the horizon. We are in the middle of that right now and if any of you think that your gas prices are going to go down to some cheap level they used to be at before 2001 you aren't being real. No matter how much we up domestic production, unless we do something unAmerican like nationalize all oil and gas, that increased production is going to be sold as a commodity mostly overseas to satisfy the fairly new found energy lust in China and India. Your gas prices and mine are going to continue to be high and they will go higher. West coast gas prices will also continue to have spikes because apparently refinery fires are the new dividend bump. Republicans, and seriously I am all for a limited government that pays its bills, the way you despise renewable energy sources that aren't fish killing dams, the way you coddle oil, gas and coal and work to thwart wind, solar, geothermal and wave action energy is short-sighted at best and will only serve to continue to alienate people like me. There is no logical reason to be against broadening our energy portfolio and exploring new and improved ways to meet the ever-increasing energy demand we have here at home. There is no logical reason to work at quickening the time wild salmon and wild steelhead have left in the Snake River Basin, either.
Look, the four lower Snake River dams account for, at best, 4 percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest. We can't replace 4 percent with something else!?! The port at Lewiston is a taxpayer drain, a fleecing of Lewiston property tax payers and all other taxpayers who fund that ever-dwindling shipping port. Irrigation from those reservoirs goes to 13 farms and I don't know about you, but wild salmon and wild steelhead are far more important than 13 farms and it isn't even an either or scenario, those farmers can buy more pipe and get water from a free flowing river if the dams are ever breached, which in all likelihood they won't be and wild salmon and wild steelhead will go extinct in the Snake River Basin in your lifetime. This bill is just an insurance policy to that end, which is happening as we don't speak about dam breaching in any formal venue beyond Judge Redden's now darkened court room.
I can't answer for you why people like Congressman Hastings fear a solutions table. I can't. I could speculate, but what good would that do, your imagination is as good as mine.
Doc Hastings wants to save concrete, which isn't endangered and in no need of saving. I want to save wild salmon and wild steelhead, which are endangered and in desperate need of saving. We can save the wild salmon and wild steelhead of the Snake River Basin in this generation by breaching four lower Snake River dams, but we probably won't because people will continue to elect people like Doc Hastings to Congress. He has vowed this will never happen and he is chairman of the House natural resources committee. So, chances are well in the favor of the dams staying as long as 4th District Washington voters keep sending this man, who should be retired, back to Congress year after year. He has been there 18 years, I personally believe if you are in the House after four terms (8 years) you've overstayed your welcome. Senators should get two terms and that is all as well. We would have a better government if these people didn't know they basically have the job for life provided they keep their pants on around the interns.
The only positive thing I can see from the worst damn bill ever or best dam bill ever is that it has to be clear to some level headed people that Congressman Hastings has overplayed his hand and he is all in with the agencies presiding over the extinction of Snake River Basin wild salmon and wild steelhead. Hastings is a conservative, he has great conservative scores across the board, but he is backing big government waste and inefficiency to ensure wild salmon extinction.
To the babies recently born or not yet born, I apologize for the selfish who will deprive you of your natural heritage and leave you with bankruptcy collectors to boot. It doesn't have to be that way, but there are huge obstacles in the way and Congressmen who will stop at nothing to deprive you of your natural heritage that I and millions of others have been trying to hold for you in trust. The world can be a better place, but far too many people sit in positions of power who are blind to a better world and will do nothing to realize it.