Like all budgets, the new operating budget for state government is a reflection of priorities — primarily those of the majority. As senators representing districts along or close to the Snake River, we are unable to get past one familiar Democrat priority in particular; as we write this, the budget contains yet another appropriation related to breaching the Snake River dams.
This time it’s for $2.5 million, over two years, to study how to replace the capacity to generate power and supply irrigation water that would be lost if the Democrats, who despise the dams, ever get their way.
The Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact report from 2020 rejected the idea of dam breaching based on a comprehensive assessment of both the ecological science and the power needs of the Pacific Northwest. The research concluded that there is no way to replace the clean, renewable energy the dams provide.
The Snake River dams are a significant source of carbon-free power, equal to the output from two coal-fired power plants, each with a peak capacity of approximately 3 megawatts. Losing that power would increase electricity costs by approximately $1 billion to $2 billion. This would put a strain on Washington employers, consumers, and taxpayers and slow our economy in an uncertain post-pandemic period.
Breaching the dams would also impose enormous costs on agriculture from an irrigation standpoint and the transport of commodities. Hauling products by truck also means more carbon emissions than moving them via the Snake-Columbia system.
The Snake River dams have been extensively studied. We see no reason for another round of expensive studies — $7.5 million in all, when you include the funding in the proposed transportation budget — when there already is ample evidence of how breaching the dams would be costly to our state. It’s time to move forward.
State officials lack any control over the future of Washington’s four Snake River dams; those decisions lay in the hands of the federal government. Therefore, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to have the state Department of Ecology study how irrigation and energy needs could be met in our region should the dams be removed.
To safeguard the four lower Snake River dams, the members of Congress serving this part of Washington — U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers — recently introduced the Northwest Energy Security Act. Sens. Jim Risch of Idaho and Steve Daines of Montana introduced an identical bill in the Senate. The legislation would support the Federal Columbia River Power System by improving hydropower assets, adhering to scientific reviews of operations across the system’s entirety, and continuing to allow native salmon recovery at unprecedented rates.
Salmon runs are already improving at record rates thanks to mitigation efforts and favorable ocean conditions, while dams provide clean, reliable energy to power our homes and businesses. Both are worth protecting. Regrettably, advocates for dam breaching have often disregarded and even opposed more promising ideas that might interfere with their narrative.
For example, Puget Sound needs increased hatchery production. Senate Republicans have advocated for a Port of Bellingham proposal that would quickly bring Alaska’s self-sustaining hatchery model here, feeding hungry orcas while simultaneously expanding commercial, sports, and tribal fishing opportunities. Unfortunately, Democrats rejected this concept in 2020 — apparently due to opposition from tribes that support the idea of breaching the dams.
How many studies are enough? Democrats keep pushing for more because they never get the desired results. Instead of continuing to try to force science to conform to a politically pre-determined outcome, they should be following science and innovation wherever it leads. This is the only way to ensure our communities have access to the carbon-free baseload energy we need, which only these dams provide.
We cannot afford to lose this essential infrastructure that offers clean, renewable, safe, and affordable energy solutions for our homes and businesses and is so critical to Washington’s agricultural industry.
Sen. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick, represents the 8th Legislative District. Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, represents the 16th District. Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, is a first-term senator representing the 15th District.