Save Our wild Salmon Coalition statement re: the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the federal agencies' flawed public comment process, protecting public health and the coronavirus – and how people can support political leadership and solutions for Snake-Columbia salmon and Northwest communities.
By Joseph Bogaard, executive director
Save Our wild Salmon Coalition
March 13, 2020
Despite an inadequate Draft EIS, a deeply flawed public comment process, and very real community health risks associated with the rapid spread of the coronavirus – we ask for your help in the days ahead to (1) submit your public comment on the Draft EIS and (2) call for urgent leadership from Northwest elected officials to support and help develop effective solutions to protect and recover salmon and orca and invest in healthy communities and a reliable, affordable energy system in the Pacific Northwest.
The Draft EIS for Snake-Columbia salmon and steelhead: On February 28, 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration released their Columbia River Systems Operations (CRSO) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).
We are now in the midst of 45-day public comment. It began on February 28 and closes on April 13. 45 days is the minimum legal requirement for public review of a Draft EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) - an inadequate period of time given the voluminous DEIS, the great importance of the issues at stake, and the confusion and disruption caused by the coronavirus and the high priority to protect public health and safety.
The CRSO Draft EIS is over 8,000 pages. The executive summary exceeds 35 pages. The issues at the heart of this court-ordered EIS are profound for the people of the Northwest and the nation: survival or extinction of salmon and steelhead populations and Southern Resident orcas; the prosperity of fishing, farming and other communities inland and on the coast; the well-being of many Northwest Tribal cultures and communities; the availability of reliable, affordable and increasingly carbon-free energy, and much more.
The Public Comment Period and the Coronavirus: In the last week, Save Our wild Salmon and 20+ partner organizations sent two letters to the federal agencies. The first letter sent on March 5 asked the agencies to extend their 45-day public comment period to 120 days in order to allow for more time for the public to study and understand this lengthy document, its findings and recommendations. We also asked that the NEPA review’s overall timeline be extended after the close of the public comment period on April 13 in order to allow adequate time for federal agency staff to carefully consider and address/respond to the issues and concerns that the public raise during the comment period.
Our second letter was sent on March 11 – triggered by the quickly changing circumstances and expanding risks posed by the coronavirus. Soon after sending our first letter, it became clear that participation in public hearings in March would be unwise and unsafe for the public, for our supporters and for our staff and leaders. This second letter made clear that the signatory organizations would not encourage our supporters or the public to participate in public hearings until a time when the community health risks posed by the coronavirus had passed. We asked the agencies to postpone all of the public hearings in March and to reschedule them at a later date when people could safely and fully participate.
While we received no response from the agencies, we learned on March 13 that they have decided to cancel all of the public hearings and to instead host a series of “phone meetings” during which people can call in, record their comments and listen to others’.
While the agencies absolutely made the right call not to host public meetings this month, they remain committed to a short 45-day comment period, no in-person public hearings and the overall NEPA schedule – with a Final EIS to be released in June and a Record of Decision in September. (You may recall that the agencies' original NEPA timeline was nearly a full year longer, but it was shortened based on a White House Administrative Order issued in late October 2016 – just two weeks before the midterm elections.)
The rushed NEPA review schedule, inadequate public comment period, and flawed Draft EIS all point toward the fact that federal agency-led process cannot and will not deliver the type of comprehensive solution that the people of the Northwest and nation deserve and require. The long-term, lawful and science-based plan that we need must originate in the Northwest. The region’s policymakers – Governors and Members of Congress - must work with stakeholders, sovereigns and citizens to develop and deliver a plan that protects and recovers endangered salmon and steelhead populations and invests in prosperous communities and a reliable and affordable energy system. The federal agencies cannot deliver this plan. The people of the Northwest must.
Here's how you can help:
First and foremost, stay safe and healthy. Follow the advice of health experts and do all that you can to minimize your potential exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus.
Second, despite a highly flawed public input process, submit your comments on the inadequacies of the Draft EIS and what a comprehensive solution for Columbia-Snake salmon and Northwest communities must include.
Third, call in to the federal agencies' 'virtual public hearings. Just today, the agencies announced “phone meetings” in lieu of in-person public hearings. They will occur on March 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, 31 – from 3:45 – 8:00 pm. See details and more information here: 'Speak Up for Salmon Resource Page'.
Fourth, contact Northwest policymakers – call for their urgent engagement and leadership working with stakeholders, sovereigns and citizens to develop and deliver the comprehensive, long-term solution we need to protect and recover abundant salmon that also brings everybody forward together.
Submit your public comment here - and we’ll deliver it to the federal agencies before April 13 and to Northwest policymakers – calling for their leadership to support a regional solution. Thank you.