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Restoring the Lower Snake River

hastingsAnnie Snider

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Washington Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources is not happy with a legal settlement reached this week that will require the Army Corps of Engineers to get federal permits for pollution leaking from major hydropower dams in the Pacific Northwest.

The agreement, which ends a lawsuit brought last year against the corps by the Columbia Riverkeeper, will for the first time require the agency to monitor and report on oil and grease leaked into rivers from its turbines and other equipment. The agency also agreed to seek National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits from U.S. EPA for such discharges (Greenwire, Aug. 5).

In a letter to the commanding general of the Army Corps, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) argued that the agreement gives EPA too much power over dams that are important sources of electricity, irrigation, navigation and flood control in the region.

"In an era when EPA's regulatory authority is already highly controversial and seemingly without bounds, this lack of consultation by the Obama administration's Justice Department or Army Corps with
Northwest interests that have a keen and ongoing interest in the operation and maintenance of the Columbia and Snake River hydropower dams is frankly inexcusable," he wrote.

That environmental groups have hailed the settlement as potentially precedent-setting has Hastings particularly concerned.

He asked for an immediate explanation of the corps' decision to agree to the conditions of the settlement.

"I am particularly interested in the Army Corps' explanation of the ramifications and potential future impacts of this settlement on ongoing litigation pending by the Columbia Riverkeeper and several other plaintiffs' involving the operation of the Columbia and Snake River system dams and irrigation projects," he wrote.

Environmental groups have long contended that dams wreak havoc on river systems, interrupting fish routes, stirring up sediment and other materials, and affecting river temperatures. Many have argued for removal of the dams -- a controversial prospect given that large regions rely on the structures for electricity, water supply and other benefits.

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