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Restoring the Lower Snake River

dam.lsrBy Annette Cary, February 22, 2018

Key federal lawmakers representing the Tri-Cities are on opposite sides of a bill intended to help save the lower Snake River dams.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., is one of the bipartisan Northwest sponsors of a House bill that would keep the status quo — no breaching, no extra spilling of water — at the four lower Snake River Dams at least until 2022.

But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wants an environmental study to proceed that will look at different alternatives for salmon recovery, including breaching or removing one or more of the four dams.

She sent a letter on Tuesday to Senate and House leadership criticizing Newhouse’s bill.

“The legislation would undermine an important, ongoing process by forcing a one-size-fits-all approach for the many critical uses of the Columbia and Snake rivers, which is deeply concerning,” said Kerry Arndt, Murray’s press secretary.

“What’s more, it circumvents the courts and ignores bedrock environmental laws,” Arndt said.

In May 2016, U.S. Judge Michael Simon ordered the new environmental review and a new Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion, or BiOp.

The current BiOp — a plan created by a collaboration of federal agencies, states and tribes to protect salmon while operating Snake and Columbia river dams — does not do enough to rebuild endangered salmon and steelhead populations, he found.

Newhouse distributed Murray’s letter to news media on Thursday.

“It’s unthinkable that Seattle Democrats are putting politics over science when it comes to improving fish recovery efforts,” said Newhouse in a joint statement with fellow Washington Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler.

Murray’s letter — which also was signed by Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, both D-Wash. — said that Newhouse’s legislation would circumvent a process to consider all uses of the Columbia River power system.

Management of the river must consider fish and wildlife manage, salmon recovery, irrigation, navigation, power generation, flood protection and recreation, Murray’s letter said.

The environmental study process already has begun with 18 public meetings through the Pacific Northwest and more than 400,000 public comments made. The study is intended to evaluate the costs and benefits of multiple alternatives and possibly find a way to move listed species out of peril, Murray’s letter pointed out.

Newhouse’s bill would prevent an open and transparent process on its environmental study and new BiOp, according to Murray’s letter.

Murray would make Washington state ratepayers pick up the tab, Newhouse said.

Simon has ordered more water to be spilled over dams starting this spring in the hopes of delivering out-migrating juvenile salmon more quickly and safely to the ocean. Some critics of the decision say the spill would do little to help fish and could create high gas levels in the water that can harm juvenile fish.

The spilled water would otherwise be used for power production, and will cost Washington residents $40 million in higher electric rates this year, Newhouse said.

“They (Murray, Smith and Jayapal) claim to support clean renewable energy, while simultaneously working to destroy hydropower, Washington state’s largest source of carbon-neutral, clean energy,” Newhouse said.

“Breaching the dams, which provide critical benefits for communities in our state, should not even be an option,” he said.

The current BiOp was the result of years of work between the Obama administration, Pacific Northwest states, Northwest tribes and local people with direct knowledge and expertise in salmon recovery, Newhouse said.

“Rejecting the BiOp only hurts the people of Washington state and sets us back decades in our fight to protect fish and support clean energy,” he said.

Murray’s letter was sent to House speaker Paul Ryan, Senate leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Newhouse’s bill was introduced by Newhouse; McMorris Rodgers; Herrera Beutler; Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

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