First, though, I want to give a reasonable response as to why there are a lot of protests going on with these megaloads. You cannot simply discount someone because they choose to demonstrate, it is as important a right in this country as is our right to free speech and freedom of religion, it is even bundled with those rights in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
At first glance, when we hear the drums beating, the chants and the occasional shouts, a lot of people tend to tune out protesters, but let me try to give you some reasonable thoughts behind a lot of these protests about megaloads.
Let's begin with the whole flap over transporting these giant 30-foot in diameter and some 90-plus feet long megaloads. It isn't a stretch of the imagination that these loads could end up in the Lochsa River, there have been five fuel truck wrecks in the past eight years on Highway 12. The fifth one just happened. It is not a stretch of the imagination that one of these gigantic loads, which dwarf a logging truck, would end up sliding off the highway into the Lochsa River and we would have an environmental disturbance, not to mention a lot of cost to clean up the mess. The trees along the highway have already been trimmed back, which makes the once scenic route less scenic.
Probably the biggest reason for these protests, and I do not speak for the protesters, is that these megaloads are headed for the tar sands in Canada. This is the largest, most ecologically damaging industrial site on the planet. I believe the figure is a 50-square mile lake of toxic sludge that has been created at this site in Canada, all for oil. Now, when we figured out how to make various fuels from oil, that was a great breakthrough for mankind. But just like any energy source, it has created its own list of negative effects. For starters it is a toxic substance, it makes people sick in numerous ways. Some may want to argue that, but the data is quite clear. Exposure to oil is toxic in and of itself. The emissions from burning various fuel byproducts of oil sickens people with respiratory illnesses. And I am quite sure everyone reading this post is aware of how damaging an oil spill can be with the recent Gulf of Mexico spill from British Petroleum, et. al. Many of the people who worked to clean that mess up ended up with various mysterious diseases all due to exposure to oil. There is also, and I do not want to diminish this point, the severe ecological damage that the tar sands site presents to the immediate area it is located within and this is what I hear to be the strongest reason for the protests.
Oil has for the vast majority of my life been a commodity that we all have known we need to move away from, yet, we haven't worked very hard to get off our dependence on oil. It is still essentially a necessity for the vast majority of Americans whose automobiles primarily require it.
However, the tar sands presents a devastating future for a nation that refuses to move toward different energy sources. It basically creates the possibility that we are not going to stop using oil as our primary energy source until we have sucked every last rock on this earth dry. Therefore, so long as we support projects like the tar sands we can expect to see more and more landscapes look like this.
Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want more and more of the mountains made low so they can resemble that scar on the earth. I want more investment into better fuel technologies that eventually move oil to the dustbin of history.
There is another reasonable reason to be against these megaloads, they adversely affect public safety, especially on Highway 12. People who live around that highway and there aren't that many, but those who do may someday need an ambulance or may need to get to a hospital to deliver a baby and these things seriously disrupt traffic flows.
And now to why they are relevant in the salmon debate, the Lewiston Port is asking to expand and that expansion will allow for more of these megaloads to come to the port and the only way they could get to Lewiston is because of the existence of the four lower Snake River dams. These dams kill salmon. We knew these dams would kill salmon before we built them. Now that we have the dams, we have spent the last 36 years noting just how much and how these dams kill salmon.
These dams have to go in order for Snake River salmon to recover. There isn't some magic solution that will allow us to have our dams and eat salmon too. Little play on words for you. We will not have salmon in the Snake River basin if we keep these dams. Salmon are resilient, but they will disappear as long as we alter their environment in the drastic way these dams do. We will eventually decide it is too expensive to keep making salmon too, unless this country figures out a way to both eliminate the public debt and simultaneously grow the economy, which if you've been keeping track neither of the two major parties have a solution that does those two things. One party wants to cut spending and cut revenues, while the other party wants to increase revenues while increasing spending, in other words, both parties offer nothing but the status quo.
We have choices in life that we have to make. We made a choice a long time ago about Snake River salmon and it was a bad one. We built these dams that we knew would kill off the salmon and if you don't believe we knew beforehand take a look at the state of Washington's Department of Fisheries 1949 Annual Report.
"Another serious threat to the Columbia river fishery is the proposed construction by the U.S. Army Engineers of Ice Harbor and three other dams on the lower Snake river between Pasco, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho, to provide slackwater navigation and a relatively minor block of power. The development would remove part of the cost of waterborne shipping from the shipper and place it on the taxpayer, jeopardizing more than one-half of the Columbia river salmon production in exchange for 148 miles of subsidized barge route.... This policy of water development, the department maintains, is not in the best interest of the over-all economy of the state. Salmon must be protected from the type of unilateral thinking that would harm one industry to benefit another.... Loss of the Snake River fish production would be so serious that the department has consistently opposed the four-phase lower dam program that would begin with Ice Harbor dam near Pasco.”
These megaloads place another barrier to salmon recovery because they increase the infrastructure that is in direct opposition to salmon recovery. We are expanding the port in Lewiston, which will allow for all these megaload deals the state made and that will be one more status quo argument against any real action for salmon recovery.
We missed an opportunity to save the salmon about 10 years ago as the Corps looked at various alternatives, such as breaching the dams or raising the levee at Lewiston and dredging until 2074 when we figured out the sediment behind Lower Granite Dam was filling in the reservoir, thereby raising the level of the rivers. Now parts of downtown Lewiston are actually below the river level. So instead of saving the salmon, we decided to spend many, many more millions to keep these poorly performing dams in place.
Today, these megaloads and the expansion of the port at Lewiston present another wall of protection for keeping the dams.
I'm a fan of smaller government and for things paying their way. These dams represent an unaccountable subsidy for those who require and demand they remain in place, the same goes for the Lewiston port that without tax dollars, either through direct taxation or through the attainment of state and federal grants, could not function. The primary purpose of this port, and I need to mention I am not against ports but I am against this one, is to provide an access point for various agriculture interests to ship their various products cheaper by barging. These shipments are primarily headed to other countries, and while I am not a xenophobe, I'm not all that interested in subsidizing grain for other countries, especially when I note our federal government is in debt to the tune of $15 trillion today.
I was reading an article about one of the public hearings about expanding the port at Lewiston and it said most of the crowd was in favor of expansion and discounted those who were against expansion. I noted that one of those in favor of expansion in the article was a farmer from Lewis County. So, I looked up how much in USDA subsidies this particular farmer had received from 1995-2010 and it wasn't a huge number, but it was still $1.1 million more than I ever received from the federal government.
It's kind of funny how in America how we like to choose up sides and demonize each other. And we don't take a lot of time in determining which side someone is on based on their stance on an issue. The pattern of the past 30 years has been if you are for salmon recovery you must be a liberal in the modern day sense of the term, meaning someone who supports big government. But I ask you from a reasonable standpoint, what's the more big government side of this issue, the side that wants to remove four dams, a demonstrably cheaper solution from the taxpayer's standpoint that saves salmon in the process, or the side that wants to subsidize grain shipments overseas, subsidize ports that can't operate otherwise without heavy support from tax dollars and the side that requires billions be spent to build and maintain these dams and the necessary navigation channel that must exist?
We are $15 trillion in debt, our salmon are disappearing right before our eyes, we know there are better, renewable sources of energy and renewable sources of energy that don't exterminate salmon and yet the truly big government supporters (dam supporters) will brand this argument of mine as something from the Karl Marx playbook, something from a big government loving modern day liberal. And you know what, they would be wrong.
Salmon recovery goes beyond party lines and ideologies, and it is wrong for anyone to discount it as such. It's about not killing off the most important species in the Pacific Northwest.
In an earlier post, I told you that salmon are a keystone species because they support 137 different species in the Pacific Northwest. If salmon fall, so will other dominoes. You and I are one of those dominoes and while salmon may well disappear long before humans do, you add several centuries to the lifespan of the human race when we reverse the course of extinction for salmon and quite frankly other species. Biological diversity is more important than you may ever come to realize, more important than I will ever come to realize, the current trend on this planet is toward biological homogeny and that is a suicidal path. We must reverse this trend. It can start by saving the salmon in the Snake River basin, and that starts when we decide to remove the four lower Snake River dams.