Inslee support for possible dam-breaching ‘unfathomable,’ Sheldon says

OLYMPIA – A new letter from Gov. Jay Inslee says Congress ought to get out of the way of a federal judge contemplating dam-breaching on the Snake River – an appalling position that threatens the Washington economy and the Northwest power grid, says Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

Inslee’s letter, released this week, urges Congress to reject a bill that would prevent judicial interference with the operation of the Snake River dams.

“The governor clearly is siding with environmental groups and the tiny minority of people who think it would be a good idea to tear down the Snake River dams for the sake of fish,” Sheldon said. “Apparently he hasn’t gotten the message about the importance of these dams to the Washington economy, to power production, and the clean air we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest.

“We don’t need to do it to save the salmon and steelhead runs. We’ve seen a huge rebound over the last 10 years. We expect extremism in this debate, but when a person in a position of authority takes an irresponsible position, the nicest thing we can call it is unfathomable.”

H.R. 3144, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and supported by members of both parties, is prompted by an environmental review being conducted by the agencies responsible for managing federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers. A federal judge in Portland has sided with environmental organizations, ordering the agencies to consider dam removal as a way to improve fish runs — and to test massive spills during migration season in the meantime.

The bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would pre-empt any order that would restrict power production or impede navigation on the Snake River. Structural modifications, actions, studies or engineering plans would be prohibited unless authorized by Congress.

In his letter to Congress, Inslee objects that the bill would prevent any disruption “even by a small amount.”

Sheldon sponsored a memorial in the state Senate this year urging Congress to pass such a bill. SJM 8004 passed the Senate 26-23, but the state House, dominated by urban Democrats, refused to consider it. Sheldon notes that the four Snake River dams contribute 5 percent of the Pacific Northwest’s power – the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants – and permit irrigation, recreation and barge traffic as far as Lewiston, Idaho. He also observes that federal Judge Michael Simon is not considering other major factors affecting fish populations – harvests, natural predators and ocean conditions that cannot be controlled.

“This issue needs to be decided at the highest level,” Sheldon said. “You can’t manage a hydro system this big and this important from the bench. Congress passed the laws that protect endangered species, and it paid for the dams in the first place. It is in the best position to decide whether we take a balanced view, or submit to environmental overkill.

“You’d think a governor so concerned with our carbon footprint would be interested in preserving clean power in the Pacific Northwest. There really is no middle ground here, and he ought to know better. What’s he saying? Dam breaching is OK if we just take a little from the top?”