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HomePoliticsNorthwest GOP Reps want to protect Snake River dams with DAMN Act

Northwest GOP Reps want to protect Snake River dams with DAMN Act

Randy Bracht | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Republican congressional representatives from the Pacific Northwest are proposing legislation that seeks to bar any federal funding to breach or alter operations of the Lower Snake River dams in Washington state.

Their DAMN Act – that is, the “Defending Against Manipulative Negotiators” Act – was introduced by GOP Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of eastern Washington, Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Cliff Bentz of Oregon, and Russ Fulcher of Idaho.

As proposed, the measure also seeks to prohibit implementation of the Columbia Basin Restorative Initiative announced in December by the Biden Administration.

That initiative, negotiated over the past two years by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, calls for restoration of wild salmon populations and support of tribal-sponsored renewable energy production over the next decade within the Snake and Columbia river systems. It does not rule out breaching the dams.

The pact is supported by the Democratic governors of Washington and Oregon and four regional tribal nations but opposed by the State of Idaho. It has been filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon, seeking to pause decades-long litigation against the federal government’s operation of the dams, which tribes and environmental and sportsmen groups claim have decimated salmon migrating between the Pacific Ocean and spawning habitat in Idaho.

The GOP House members say only Congress has authority to breach the dams. They accused the Biden Administration of brokering the initiative “behind closed doors” while ignoring the congressional representatives, regional residents who rely on the dams’ hydroelectric power, and agricultural, barging, and recreational interests.

“The Biden Administration has crossed the line with its blatant, hypocritical assault on the Lower Snake River Dams,” Newhouse said in a press release, referring to the administration’s promotion of clean renewable energy while considering a “de facto” breach of the dams by reducing water below a minimum operating level for hydroelectric generation.

The DAMN Act has support from the Tri-City Development Council, Public Power Council, Inland Power, Pacific Northwest River Partners, National and Washington Associations of Wheat Growers, Washington State Potato Commission, Washington State Dairy Federation, and Columbia Basin Development League.

Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite dams are located between the Tri-Cities and Lewiston, Idaho in the congressional districts represented by Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers.

Last month, the White House issued its own press release, saying investments in the initiative “will help ensure continued energy reliability, transportation, recreation, irrigation and other key services, including in the event that Congress decides to authorize breaching of the four Lake Snake River dams.”

Not all regional interests were dismayed by the agreement. Darryll Olsen of Kennewick, who represents the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, contended there was “no secret process” in producing the initiative and that dam breaching is effectively “off the table” for the conceivable future.

McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has scheduled a subcommittee hearing that will be livestreamed on Tuesday, Jan. 30, to hear from representatives of the Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Bonneville Power Administration.

The ongoing litigation dates back to May 2001, when the National Wildlife Federation and State of Oregon sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, alleging federal officials had failed to take measures to protect migrating salmon. Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, and Northwest Energy Coalition are among the groups which have since joined in as plaintiffs.

Along with the DAMN Act, McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse are among sponsors of the Northwest Energy Security Act introduced last March. It calls for the Columbia River power system to be operated in alignment with a 2020 environmental impact statement with efforts focused on improving salmon passage without breaching the dams.

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