By Bill Arthur and Debra Smith
April 16, 2020
As those of us who are able sequester indoors in the midst of COVID-19, we should take care not to forget important challenges and opportunities that still await us outside.
In fact, it is imperative that our institutions and stakeholder groups together envision and advance the dialogue on our region’s future, as our governors rightly focus on the health and safety of residents.
Together, our organizations are doing that.
We represent an unlikely cadre of the electric utilities and conservation groups. Earlier this year, we joined 12 other utilities, conservation groups and a port in calling on Northwest governors to foster new dialogue on the issues that confront us as we address the challenges of securing long-term solutions to benefit salmon and other endangered species and delivering clean, reliable and affordable electricity to communities from central Idaho to our coasts and Puget Sound. While the governors have been called to pressing tasks, we remain committed to working together.
Recently, the Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that considers options for management of dams in the Columbia River Basin.
We are utilizing its release as an opportunity to forge a path forward and have a different dialogue. We are committed to working together to find sustainable solutions for fish and wildlife, tribal treaty and trust resources, hydroelectricity, food production, transportation and recreation. Durable resolution of these issues will provide long-term value and certainty for the Northwest regional economy and its communities.
What specifically do we need? Our organizations have outlined four goals we agree on to guide our discussions and chart a prosperous Northwest future. We seek:
• Abundant and harvestable fish populations in the Columbia River Basin.
• An enhanced regional economy that includes farming, transportation, fishing, recreation, port and tribal enterprises.
• Protection of the identity and cultural values of tribes in the basin, and fulfillment of our federal treaty and trust responsibilities.
• And a reliable, affordable, clean electric-power system.
While progress has been made, much more work needs to be done. It has gone on too long, and it is imperative to forge a responsible and durable solution.
We know that residents across the region are ready to move forward with us. We heard so during the public meetings in January as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Lower Snake River Stakeholder Process on the basin. Consider the headlines that followed: “At panel on breaching Snake River dams, stakeholders try to meet on needs” (Idaho Statesman); “Dams Vs. Salmon: Workshops Aim To Get Past ‘My Study Can Beat Up Your Study’ On Snake River” (Northwest Public Broadcasting).
Business owners across our region — farmers, fisherman, outdoor guides — are eager to work alongside Native leaders and elected officials to chart a course that moves us forward together.
Our organizations are ready to work together with members of Congress, and pledge to push the conversation forward. Our utilities are the three largest customers of Bonneville Power Administration, which collectively provide the clean hydroelectricity that 2 million residents and tens of thousands of businesses depend on. Our ranks also include conservation organizations that have worked for a sustainable Northwest for decades.
Over the years, we’ve sometimes been at odds. But we all recognize that there is a unique opportunity now to secure a clean power future in our region, one that honors our treaties with tribes, one that provides for families, and one that restores healthy populations of our iconic salmon and steelhead that benefit economies, cultures and other species.
We must keep moving forward. We need to do it in a way that accounts for all our communities and achieves important simultaneous goals.
Northwesterners are smart, innovative and passionate. We can do this because we are determined to do it together.
Contributing to this Op-Ed: John Haarlow, CEO and general manager of Snohomish County Public Utility District; Chris Robinson, general manager and superintendent of Tacoma Power; Nancy Hirsh, executive director for the NW Energy Coalition; and Giulia Good Stefani, senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council.
Bill Arthur is chair of the Snake/Columbia River salmon campaign at the Sierra Club.
Debra Smith is chairwoman of the Public Power Council and general manager and CEO, Seattle City Light.