Political snapshot ’09Q2: lower Snake dam removal

Weeding through the records emerging from Judge Redden’s courtroom and the Obama administration’s latest meeting (distilled best by EarthJustice), it seems that Redden will not finalize a plan for Northwest Salmon until early August, 2009.  We in the orca and salmon conservation communities would do well by the endangered animals to use these next 6 weeks to organize ourselves and brainstorm creative ways to influence the political/economic/legal processes so that we re-balance the priorities of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and the BPA.

How can we in western Washington influence the BPA economically?  Through petitioning our local electricity utilities to pay more overall in return for increasing summer flows (and passing on revenue from selling to CA during air-conditioning season) — investing in the preservation of our regional icons?

Can we convince Lubchencko to hear all of our voices on her next regional visit?

Below are some of my notes on what has been happening recently.  Does anyone have a synopsis of which regional leaders are on the orcas/salmon side?  How can we educate or influence Gov. Gregoire, Senator Murray, Rep. McMorris Rodgers, and their like?

Legal interpretation from Keith Rizzardi:

The opinion represents a setback for federal biologists, but solutions will never be easy to come in this struggle between carbon-friendly hydroelectric power and threatened and endangered salmonid species.  The letter also represents an unusual acknowledgement of politics, and the realities of a change in presidential administrations.  In a letter last week to Judge Redden, the Justice Department said top officials in the Obama administration want a delay of up to two months to “more fully understand all aspects” of the plan. See Capital Press.  Judge Redden’s letter represents a prodding response.  “I applaud the new administration’s efforts to understand, and become more fully engaged in the complex issues presented by this case.”  In other words, rather than issuing an opinion, Judge Redden gave the Obama Administration an opportunity to take another look at the circumstances, and to reconsider the current course.

May 18 report about Judge Redden’s preliminary conclusions about the 2008 BiOp, or plan for operating the dams, from EarthJustice includes a scan of a letter from Redden to stakeholders.

Guest editorial by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers:

Despite this success, there are still some that continue to wage war on our dams, namely the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.  What is missing from this debate is the fact that removal of the Snake River dams would add 5.4 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year and it would take three nuclear, six coal-fired, or 14 gas fired power plants to replace their electricity generation.  The dams also serve as the base resource for integrating wind energy into the Northwest grid.

I feel this hearing was the first step toward a better understanding in Congress about the value of hydropower and I look forward to forming a bi-partisan Congressional Caucus to protect and promote hydropower.

The river systems throughout the Pacific Northwest are a critical part of our region’s economy and should be used for transportation, irrigation and recreation. These dams built our economy and continue to contribute to our way of life.

Responses to her opinion:


Not only have these four dams destroyed our salmon, they have cost the American taxpayer far more than they have given us. These bloated federal projects have cost $11 billion since 1987 and will cost the public another $15 billion to $18 billion in the next 20 years. This cost for 1,000 megawatts (4 percent of the Northwest grid) of power per year. The BPA says that 4,600 megawatts of wind power are in the pipeline and could be contributing in five years.


Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers would do well to take a lesson from Sen. Crapo and look to the interests of the wider region rather than her own narrower agenda when she purports to suggest solutions to the Snake River salmon crisis.

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