Bill would require agencies to analyze impacts
Register Guard Editorial - Aug 4th, 2009
It may still be possible to save the Northwest’s endangered salmon runs without breaching the four Snake River dams that represent the greatest threat to the survival of fish runs in the Columbia River basin.
Or it may not.
Either way, the federal government should be fully informed of its options and prepared to proceed with whatever actions are necessary to ensure that the salmon runs do not go extinct.
Twenty federal lawmakers, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., recently introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to analyze the environmental, economic and infrastructure issues associated with removing the dams.
The bill would not mandate or trigger the removal of the dams. It would merely ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and Department of Energy evaluate the impacts of removal on transportation, energy and irrigation in the Northwest.
It's a reasonable and necessary precaution, especially given U.S. District Judge James Redden's clarion warning earlier this year that removal of the dams must be included in the government's recovery plan for salmon in the Columbia Basin.
Redden's courtroom lies at the epicenter of a two-decade legal battle over how best to balance the needs of the Northwest's iconic salmon with the basin's federal hydropower dams that produce cheap, relatively clean power.
Redden has proven himself a judicial force to be reckoned with - and the best hope for the survival of the 13 runs of Columbia and Snake salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. He has twice rejected the government's recovery plans, and, while he recently praised all involved for improvements in the latest version, he has left no doubt that removal of the Snake dams must be included as a last-resort option in the final plan.
Meanwhile, Congress should approve the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act, which requires federal agencies to examine the benefits, costs and impacts of dam removal. Critics claim that the bill is an attempt to undermine the latest recovery plan, but the opposite is true. The measure simply requires the government to prepare for a removal option that Redden already has made clear must be part of the final recovery plan.
Salmon runs have steadily dwindled over the past 150 years in the Northwest as a result of logging and mining in headwaters, irrigation, grazing, development and ocean fishing. But it was the construction of the Columbia Basin dams, in particular those along the Snake, that pushed salmon to the brink.
Scientists estimate that salmon have declined to less than 5 percent of their historic numbers. Meanwhile, taxpayers and utility ratepayers have spent more than $8 billion on salmon recovery over the past three decades and there has been dismayingly little to show for that investment.
If it becomes necessary to remove the Snake dams, Congress should make certain the government is prepared for that possibility. Lawmakers should keep in mind that future generations will judge them on whether they did everything necessary to ensure that salmon survive.