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News / Northwest

GOP reps ramp up fight on ‘hypocritical assault’ on Snake River dams in Eastern WA

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: January 29, 2024, 8:31am

KENNEWICK — Republicans representing Congressional districts that depend on the lower Snake River dams are digging in on their opposition to tearing them down.

A bill that would prohibit using federal money to breach the lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington has been introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and four other Northwest Republicans.

That’s in addition to his testimony earlier this month to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure opposing any language to breach dams in a broad water infrastructure bill.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a cosponsor of the Newhouse bill specific to the dams, also has set a House subcommittee hearing on the Snake River dams on Tuesday.

Its title, “Exposing President Biden’s Plan to Dismantle the Snake River Dams and the Negative Impacts to the United States,” likely indicates the tone of the hearing.

It will provide an opportunity to expose how the Biden administration’s plans will “destroy people’s lives in Eastern Washington,” McMorris Rodgers said in an announcement of the hearing.

“The Biden administration has crossed the line with its blatant, hypocritical assault on the lower Snake River Dams,” Newhouse said in a statement to news media as his bill was filed.

The bill, which Republicans are calling the Defending Against Manipulative Negotiators Act, or DAMN Act, is the first of many planned pieces of legislation to save the dams, Newhouse said.

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In December the Biden administration announced an agreement, the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, with the states of Washington and Oregon and four tribes as part of a long-running federal lawsuit.

The initiative, which was hammered out behind closed doors, will spend more than $1 billion over a decade on projects to restore salmon populations and prepare for breaching the four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River, including by supporting the development of clean energy projects sponsored by tribes. The lawsuit will be stayed for the 10 years.

The initiative stops short of requiring the dams be physically breached or torn down in an effort to help endangered fish populations.

However, the initiative has been called a “roadmap” to breaching the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams along the Snake River from where it flows into the Columbia River near Pasco, Wash., upriver to near Lewiston, Idaho.

Newhouse says the Biden administration and advocates for breaching the dams are working toward a “de facto” breach by reducing the water levels below the minimum needed for hydroelectric generation.

“This administration, since its campaign, claims to advocate for green energy solutions, yet disregards that notion when told to by manipulative environmental activities who do not understand how critical the dams are to the Pacific Northwest and a clean energy future,” Newhouse said.

Salmon endangered

The White House, in its announcement of the agreement Dec. 14, said that it called for 10 years of predictable hydrosystem operations and flexibility to deliver power during the high demand summer season.

Since the federal dams were constructed in the Columbia River Basin, 13 salmon and steelhead species have been listed as threatened or endangered, and none have recovered, the White House said.

In addition to supporting the development of tribal sponsored clean energy projects, the federal government will conduct studies or help pay for studies of how the transportation, irrigation and recreation services provided by the lower Snake River dams could be replaced. That will help inform Congress should it consider dam breaching in the future, according to a White House fact sheet.

Joining the Newhouse led DAMN Act as additional sponsors in addition to McMorris Rodgers, are Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore; Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, and Cliff Bentz, R-Ore.

“”I am proud to cosponsor the DAMN Act as it prohibits the use of federal funds to breach the dams,” Fulcher said. “This legislation protects crucial industries, preserves the way of life for communities across the region, and maintains a source of clean, reliable baseload energy.”

Snake dams hearing

The Tuesday hearing on the Snake River dams will include representatives of the federal government, including the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Energy, testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security. McMorris Rodgers is chairperson of the committee.

It also will include a second panel of people affected by the dams. Jim Matheson, the chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is among those invited to testified. He has said the effort to breach the dams is “deeply alarming and would jeopardize reliable electricity for millions of Americans in the Pacific Northwest.”

The hearing is at 7 a.m. Pacific Time and can be watched at energycommerce.house.gov.

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