Editorials

Opinion: Pawning off one farmer as representing all is a cheap trick in the dam-removal campaign

Washington governor questioned about the need for Snake River dams

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers grills Gov. Inslee about the push to remove the lower Snake River dams.
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Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers grills Gov. Inslee about the push to remove the lower Snake River dams.

Advocates for tearing down the Snake River dams made a scheming move last week in Olympia, but they didn’t fool Eastern Washington lawmakers.

If anything, their failed strategy strengthened the resolve of many of our region’s legislators, who were frustrated by the misrepresentation.

Here is the story:

A Seattle-based marketing firm sent out news releases this month saying that an “unlikely alliance” of fisherman, farmers and small business owners was gathering April 10 at the state capitol to support creating a forum focused on the dams.

The alert said that Bryan Jones, a fourth-generation wheat farmer from Dusty, would be in the group.

“Our lives and livelihoods have been shaped by the Snake River and if the dams must be removed, then we’ll need a plan for businesses and communities moving forward,” he said in the release. “Farmers in my area, for example, will need alternatives for irrigating and transporting crops.”

This is a sneaky way to frame the issue. Any group that says it wants to plan in case the dams are removed is, in reality, trying to justify their removal.

What’s more, Jones is not an “unlikely” ally. He’s been associated with anti-dam groups for years, and does not officially represent other wheat growers.

Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler, a farmer from Ritzville, blasted his statement.

“I think that the fact that they have one farmer that they are dragging around … One, one out of thousands of farmers. They found one. None of the trade groups support this. It just goes to show this issue is not going to go away for the environmentalists. It just goes on and on.”

Republican Rep. Mary Dye, a wheat farmer from Pomeroy, also said she was very upset by the ploy, and that she is in strong opposition to any kind of conversation about removing the dams.

Republican Rep. Joe Schmick, who also has farming ties in Colfax, has said bringing in a farmer was a “new twist.”

The controversy is centered on $750,000 that Gov. Inslee proposed in his budget for a committee to study the effects to Eastern Washington if the lower Snake River dams are breached or removed.

The proposal is not included in the House budget, but it is in the Senate’s.

So the debate is heating up.

IMG_ice_harbor_15_1_UVBU3Q5C_L333157189
Ice Harbor Dam near Pasco one of the four Snake River dams fish advocates say must come down to save endangered salmon and steelhead. Rocky Barker rbarker@idahostatesman.com

We have said that such a task force is not needed because the federal government already is conducting a similar, yet significantly more thorough, Environmental Impact Statement scheduled to be released in September 2020.

We also have said that spending $750,000 on a duplicate effort is a waste, but as the battle continues, it is clear the issue is really about what the money represents, not the money itself.

Those who want the dams removed want that task force formed.

In fact, a letter signed by 43 west-side Democrats was sent to the state Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee urging the $750,000 be kept in the budget.

Why do they want another study?

Because they don’t like the evidence that already shows how vital those dams are to Eastern Washington, how salmon and dams can co-exist and that dams are not the only factor in the fish struggles. Other issues include overfishing and pollution in Puget Sound.

Our wheat farmers know shipping costs will go up if the dams are removed and they can no longer barge their crop. Those in the power industry say the dams are necessary for reliable power.

And National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) studies in 2016 and 2018 concluded that breaching the dams only would have a marginal impact on the salmon population.

Yet those who want the dams gone dismiss all this.

They appear determined to push their agenda despite what it will do to Eastern Washington, and they want a state task force formed to help them do it.

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