Conducted in 2014, the Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion (BiOp) was an unprecedented example of cooperation between President Barack Obama’s administration, state governments, sovereign Northwest tribes, and public and private power groups.
Its conclusion: Dams and fish can coexist.
That is why we have introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure this collaboration continues in our region to address hydropower and increase the recovery of our endangered salmon.
We have introduced a bill to put this collaborative Biological Opinion into law so we can move forward with fish recovery efforts, court mandated studies, and continue to see the benefit of our dams throughout the Pacific Northwest.
It is almost impossible to overstate the value of our current hydropower system. Local hydropower represents 70 percent of Washington’s energy — a clean, renewable output equal to that of six coal-fired power plants.
Our dams are responsible for the low power bills we all enjoy as Washingtonians. In fact, we are consistently ranked as one of the top three states with the lowest electricity rates in the country.
Our four Snake River dams alone power 1.87 million homes across the state with carbon-neutral clean energy. Washington state’s entire renewable energy system relies on this baseload power to complement other renewables, such as wind and solar. If we were to reduce the use of hydropower in Washington state, it would need to be replaced by other baseload energies like coal or natural gas.
Unfortunately our dams — and the clean energy they provide —are in jeopardy: Oregon U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon recently ordered an increase in mandatory spill along the Columbia River system.
Federal agency experts estimate the judge’s order of increased spill will cost an additional $40 million in consumer costs, while posing long-term damage to fish populations. This judge claims to know better than the local stakeholders and experts, tribal nations, and federal scientists and engineers who crafted this Biological Opinion how to manage the Columbia and Snake River system.
What is worse, Gov. Jay Inslee has reversed Washington state’s previous support and is now in opposition to preserving the current BiOp. In February, Washington Congressional Democrats wrote a letter opposing our bipartisan legislation. To replace the current bipartisan framework, these congressional colleagues are offering radical alternatives that would result in higher electricity bills for you and your family, and more uncertainty in protecting native salmon.
Their letter advocates for more spill — an alternative that would cost Washington ratepayers $40 million next year alone — or, even worse, they advocate for breaching or removing our dams. Both of these options lack scientific evidence for improving fish recovery.
It is unthinkable that Inslee and his fellow Democrats are opposing an Obama-era decision and are putting politics over science when it comes to improving fish recovery efforts. Their efforts would set us back decades and further hurt efforts to protect fish and our energy infrastructure.
Since 2014, we have seen 2.5 million adult salmon pass the Bonneville Dam, the highest and most consistent returns since the state began keeping track in 1938. When it comes to juvenile fish, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) reports that yearling Chinook salmon and steelhead smolts have a 96 percent to 99 percent survival rate through the four lower Snake River dams.
These are the same four “controversial” dams that Judge Simon wants to use taxpayer dollars to study for possible removal. Plus, it would cost upwards of $532 million to remove these four dams alone.
Looking down the river, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that from 2013 to 2015, endangered fish populations reported survival rates from 50 percent to 70 percent for early migrations, 67 percent to 85 percent for intermediate migrations, and 83 percent to 92 percent for late migrations. We’ve also proposed solutions to mitigate sea lion predation to increase endangered fish recovery without costing Washingtonians hundreds of millions of dollars.
Our river system also functions as a superhighway for agricultural goods, allowing an efficient, cost-effective flow of commerce. Washington is the most trade-reliant state in the country, responsible for $79.6 billion worth of exports in 2016, goods transported with the help of the 40,000 people employed in various capacities through our system of dams and locks. In 2016 alone, it would have taken 160,000 semi-trucks to move the goods which traveled by barge during that year.
Think of the carbon emissions our dams are preventing from being added into our state’s airways.
While anti-dam voices are persistent, they choose ideology over science, which would have a negative impact on you and your families.
Anti-dam groups claim there are not enough resources dedicated to fish protection. Since the BPA began fish and wildlife expenditures in 1978, it has spent $15.28 billion on fish recovery, including $3.57 billion on direct habitat and hatchery improvement and $4.31 billion on river operations.
For all of these reasons, our bipartisan legislation is critical. The status quo proposed by Inslee and Sen. Murray will waste tax dollars, raise energy costs, decrease grid reliability, and harm fish returns. Our economy is tied to our hydropower system, and our legislation allows for our dams and fish to coexist.
Low energy prices, clean and renewable power, efficient and low-carbon transportation — there is simply no question that our Federal Columbia River Power System helps both taxpayers and the environment. We have spent years in the courtroom, but it is time we let the experts do their jobs. That is what our bill will do.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, 5th House District, including Spokane and Walla Walla; Rep. Dan Newhouse, 4th House District; and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, 3rd House District, including Camas and Vancouver.