A settlement reached by two federal agencies covering pollutants from Columbia and Snake River dams gives the Environmental Protection Agency unwarranted power, said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
That the agreement was reached behind closed doors without input of the people of the Northwest who rely on the rivers "is frankly inexcusable," Hastings said in a letter sent Wednesday to Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers.
The settlement ends a yearlong lawsuit brought by Columbia Riverkeeper by requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to begin disclosing the amount of pollutants its dams are sending into the rivers. The Corps must apply to EPA for pollution permits, according to the settlement agreement announced Monday.
The agreement with the Oregon-based group was negotiated by the Department of Justice and Army Corps lawyers.
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"This settlement would empower the EPA to enforce stringent National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit requirements that could slow down or impede the Army Corps' operation or maintenance of the dams," Hastings said in the letter.
"It also sets a host of burdensome and fixed deadline requirements that could lead to even more litigation in the future," he said.
The agreement could result in a vast expansion of the EPA's authority over the operation of Army Corps dams nationwide, including the eight federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, Hastings said. Mid-Columbia residents rely on those dams for electricity, irrigation and flood control, plus transportation of commodities.
"Incredibly, I understand that no one other than U.S. Department of Justice or Army Corps lawyers were made aware of the terms of this sweeping settlement before it was finalized and signed by a judge," the letter said.
The agreement comes amidst the EPA's "Waters of the U.S." proposal, which could shut down a host of water development projects and make it easier for litigious groups to sue to block them, he said.
Hastings asked Bostick for an immediate and thorough explanation of the Army Corps' rationale and details of its actions related to the settlement. The explanation should be made not just to Congress but to state, local, tribal and other parties interested in Northwest dams and those that could be effected nationwide by the precedent the agreement could set, he said.
Hastings was particularly interested in the Army Corps' explanation of the ramifications of the settlement on other ongoing litigation over the operation of Columbia and Snake river system dams and irrigation projects.
The settlement covers Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, Lower Granite, McNary, The Dalles, John Day and Bonneville dams.
Columbia Riverkeeper said that the Army Corps has been violating the Clean Water Act with unmonitored and unpermitted oil discharges from those dams. As part of the settlement, the Corps may have to switch to a biodegradable lubricant for its dam machinery.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; email@example.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews