A bill that would “protect America’s dams and promote new clean, low-cost hydropower to help create jobs and grow the economy” was the focus of a federal legislative field hearing Wednesday in Pasco, Wash.
Two House Republicans and a panel comprised mostly of utility and agricultural leaders met to outline the benefits of Columbia and Snake River dams that would be protected by the “Saving Our Dams and Hydropower Development and Jobs Act of 2012,” a bill introduced in July by Congressman Doc Hastings, R-WA, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
In essence, the bill would declare hydropower as a renewable energy source and would prohibit dam breaching throughout the United States. It would prohibit use of federal funds from being used to remove, breach or study the removal or breaching of any hydropower dam, and it would prohibit federal funding to organizations that have engaged in litigation against the federal government aimed at dam removal or decreasing hydropower.
According to a Hastings press release, the bill, described as a “starting point” for discussion, “shines a bright light on the enormous benefits and potential of federal and non-federal hydropower dams.”
Hastings’ bill has received strong support from Congressman Tom McClintock of California, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Water and Power. McClintock joined Hastings at the hearing. Both gave opening remarks and asked questions of a panel consisting of local stakeholders, farmers, irrigators and elected officials.
All participants advocated win-win scenarios in which salmon also would be protected, but just two of the eight witnesses said the bill does not do enough to protect fish.
According to a Hastings’ press release, the bill “contains simple, common sense reforms that will preserve low-cost hydroelectric bills for millions of American families, provide water certainty to American farmers who feed the world, and protect valuable navigation to transport billions of dollars worth of goods. The bill protects and promotes hydropower resources by ending practices that diminish existing hydropower, cutting regulatory red-tape, generating new non-federal funding for new projects and improving transparency.”
In his opening statement, Hastings said dams not only provide the “cleanest, most-efficient form of energy,” they provide flood control, irrigation needs, recreational opportunities and navigation to transport “billions of dollars worth of wheat, grains and goods to markets around the world.”
Further, Hastings said, “dams are helping” salmon recovery.
“With significant improvements to Columbia and Snake River dams, more fish are in the river than before the dams were built – and fish survival past the dams are much higher than ever before – up to 98 percent in some cases. While some insist the choice is ‘dams or fish,’ it’s been proven we can have ‘fish and dams.’”
In his opening remarks, McClintock said the proposed bill will “expose the continuing efforts by the environmental left to destroy our nation’s system of dams.”
McClintock listed the reasons why dams are beneficial – protecting against the “ravages of flood years” while assuring “abundant water in dry years.”
A “radical and retrograde ideology has seized our public policy” and is intent on tearing down “four perfectly good hydroelectric dams capable of producing clean and inexpensive electricity for 150,000 homes” in the Klamath Valley.
“We’re told this is necessary to save dwindling populations of salmon on the Klamath. Yet, the Iron Gate fish hatchery produces five million salmon smolts each year, 17,000 of which return to the Klamath as fully-grown adults to spawn … To add insult to insanity, when they tear down the Iron Gate dam, the Iron Gate hatchery goes with it.”
Further, McClintock argued, those who “claim they want abundant salmon populations” actually “seek to destroy our salmon hatcheries that produce a staggering abundance of salmon.”
Said McClintock, “The future they advocate is one of increasingly severe government-induced shortages, higher and higher electricity and water rates, skyrocketing grocery prices and spreading food shortages, massive taxpayer subsidies to politically well-connected and favored industries, and a permanently declining quality of life for our families who will be required to stretch and ration every drop of water and every watt of electricity in their bleak and dimly lit homes – homes in which gravel replaces green lawns and the toilets constantly back up.”
Rather, McClintock said Hastings’ bill envisions a future in which families can look forward to a green lawn, a lush garden or cool swimming pool in the backyard, inexpensive and reliable air-conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter, brightly lit homes and cities, and abundant and affordable groceries from America’s agricultural cornucopia.”
Hastings said the bill would ensure that common sense guides decision on the “costly spill of water past dam turbines – an often wasteful policy that has continued even when science shows spill harms fish more than the transportation of fish.”
Additionally, the bill would require that families and businesses served by federal energy suppliers be provided with “transparent, honest information on how much of their power bill goes to fish recovery and how much supports wind power development.”
One of the panel participants, Jim Sanders, General Manager of the Benton County Public Utility District in Kennewick, Wash., said that since 1978 Northwest power users have spent more than $12 billion on fish and wildlife mitigation. That’s meant an extra cost of about $200 a year for every PUD customer and hundreds of thousands of dollars for big irrigators.
Another member of the panel, Jim Yost, an Idaho member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and current chairman of the Council’s Power Committee, called wind energy a “fad” and likened it to collecting “Beanie Babies,” the stuffed animals popular in the 1980s.
“You buy up all the Beanie Babies and load up the shelf and what are they good for? Not much. Same with wind, it’s just a fad,” Yost said.
Rebecca Miles from Lapwai, former chairman of the Nez Perce Council and the tribe’s current executive director, testified as a “proud member” of the tribe and not in an official capacity.
She noted that the Nez Perce were a holdout on a 10-year accord in which three other treaty fishing tribes – the Umatillas, Yakamas and Warm Springs – agreed not to take a position on dam breaching.
Miles was mindful of the importance of salmon to tribes up and down the Columbia and Snake River basins and said the four Snake River dams have had “devastating effects on salmon and people.”
Miles said the federal government promised that the region could have the four lower Snake River dams plus a harvestable amount of salmon, but that promise remains unfulfilled. Nevertheless, she said the Nez Perce will remain diligent in their efforts, through hatchery supplementation, to restore salmon to harvestable levels.
Before questioning, Hastings showed the panel a clip of a TV interview in which former U.S. Federal Judge James Redden advocated for removal of the Snake River dams. He asked if anyone on the panel thought an aggressive approach to breaching, or court-run dams were good ideas.
(See CBB, April 27, 2012, “‘I Think We Need To Take Those Dams Down’: Judge Redden’s Interview Comments Stir Reaction” http://www.cbbulletin.com/419993.aspx)
Almost everyone on the panel answered with a pair of “no’s” except for Miles and Glen Spain, Northwest Region director for The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association out of Eugene, Ore.
Miles said the “Courts are not running the dams; it is protecting a species that can’t speak for itself.”
Spain, who was repeatedly peppered with pointed questions, particularly from Congressman McClintock, said the courts have been forced to intervene because of gridlock in Washington, D.C.
Spain was asked several times what dams on the Columbia or Snake Rivers were “obsolete,” a term used in a lawsuit filed by the Fishermen’s Association. His answers did not satisfy either Congressman.
McClintock asked Spain if he would support any hydropower project or if he would support replacing rather than removing dams altogether.
Not receiving the answer he wanted, McClintock dismissed Spain saying, “When you are so evasive it ruins whatever credibility you brought in here, which in my mind wasn’t much.”
Hastings said “dam removal extremists” lost their battle in 2000 because the “science doesn’t even show removal will actually recovery fish.”
Their efforts continue, however, through lawsuits that portend action in the courts.
Hastings concluded, “The threat to the Snake River and other dams is very real – and the common sense actions in this straightforward bill are intended to shine a light on these tactics, help stop this wasteful and extreme campaign, and protect these valuable assets and renewable energy sources.”
For more media coverage of the hearing see Tri-City Herald http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2012/08/16/2064296/house-natural-resources-committee.html