On Feb. 7, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) rolled out his massive $33.5 billion proposal to breach the four lower Snake River dams and compensate those who depend on them in an attempt to save Idaho's threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs.
Environmental groups, fishing advocates and others—including the Nez Perce Tribe and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown—were quick to support it. Ports, local communities and some federal lawmakers from the region condemned it. And many in the energy industry appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach, lured by the possibility of litigation-free hydropower operations, but loathe to give up so much carbon-free, flexible, reliable and inexpensive power.
Here are some of the reactions, issued through prepared statements:
Idaho Gov. Brad Little: "My position on the lower Snake River Dams has not changed. I remain unconvinced that breaching the dams is a silver bullet for salmon recovery. Breaching the dams would have devastating impacts on Idahoans and vital segments of Idaho’s economy. We must continue to find creative, consensus-based solutions that help salmon thrive and foster a strong Idaho economy. Last year, I signed an agreement with the Governors of Washington, Oregon, and Montana, stating Idaho’s commitment to working collaboratively on a regional level to advance our shared goal of successful salmon recovery and economic prosperity. I am also proud of the work of my Salmon Workgroup—a diverse group of stakeholders that worked for 20 months to come up with dozens of programmatic recommendations that promote healthy salmon populations and thriving river communities in Idaho. It was the first time that broad interests worked collaboratively to help shape Idaho’s policy on salmon and steelhead. While a lot remains to be done, I am confident we are moving in the right direction. I have immense respect for Congressman Simpson and all the work he has done on behalf of the people of Idaho. We may not see eye to eye on this issue, but I am committed to continuing to work with local and regional stakeholders and the entire Idaho congressional delegation to improve salmon returns and ensure Idaho industries not only remain whole but are better positioned for the future."
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: "I'd like to thank Rep. Simpson for working with a broad coalition of interested parties across the Northwest to craft this proposal, which will help us to build on the economic opportunities of the Columbia Basin and invest in a clean energy future. At the same time, we can restore the promise of healthy and abundant salmon and steelhead stocks for generations to come, while respecting the history and rights of the sovereign tribes that have been stewards of these rivers since time immemorial. We look forward to continued collaborative discussions with the goal of reaching solutions for the mutual benefit of all the stakeholders of the Columbia and Snake Rivers."
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee: "Washington welcomes Rep. Simpson's willingness to think boldly about how to recover Columbia and Snake river salmon in a way that works for the entire region and invests—at a potentially transformative level—in clean energy, transportation and agriculture. I believe that the Columbia Basin Collaborative, a regional process the governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana are in the process of convening, must play a prominent role in the formation and implementation of a comprehensive plan for the future of the Columbia and Snake rivers. The Collaborative can complement and inform Congressional efforts, and help our states achieve salmon recovery goals in a manner that is consistent with protecting and enhancing clean, reliable and affordable energy, transportation systems and agriculture. Conversations among different interests and across party lines are essential to identifying creative solutions that work for salmon, energy and the economy. This is important—to Washington's tribes, people, economy and culture. I look forward to engaging with our state's congressional delegation to find solutions that fully meet the needs of our state."
Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Shannon Wheeler: "We view restoring the lower Snake River—a living being to us, and one that is injured—as urgent and overdue. Congressman Simpson, in focusing on the facts and on a solution, speaks the truth—that restoring salmon and the lower Snake River can also reunite and strengthen regional communities and economies. We will support Congressman Simpson's initiative and we respect the courage and vision he is showing the region. This is an opportunity for multiple regional interests to align with a better future for the Northwest: river restoration and salmon recovery; local and regional economic investment and infrastructure improvement; and long-term legal resolution and certainty."
BPA Administrator John Hairston: "We respect Congressman Simpson, and appreciate his interest in salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin. BPA looks forward to more conversations about this concept, and the region's environmental and economic future."
Colville Tribal Chairman Rodney Cawston: “The Colville Tribes agrees that the Northwest has been stuck in the status quo when it comes to restoring salmon on the Columbia River. We share Congressman Simpson’s vision that a region wide solution is achievable by working with Tribes both in the lower and upper Columbia River and affected stakeholders. The Colville Tribes looks forward to engaging with stakeholders in hopes of finding common ground and wishes to thank Congressman Simpson for focusing our collective attention on the importance of salmon to the region.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho): "This is an incredibly complex and difficult issue. The concept for addressing it has a tremendous number of variables and will require a great deal of time and analysis. I am reviewing the proposal and listening to Idahoans from every background on the topic, as I always have, and will continue to look for effective ways to improve anadromous fish runs. However, my opposition to dam breaching remains unchanged and my commitment to Idaho's farmers, businesses, sportsmen and recreational users who depend on the existing system holds firm."
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash): "I have said it time and again: As long as I am in Congress, nobody is tearing down our dams. I have great respect for Representative Simpson, and we will continue to work together on many different policy issues that impact the Pacific Northwest—but removing or breaching the Lower Snake River Dams is one that we fundamentally disagree on. Dams and salmon can—and do—coexist. The extensive, world-class research and technological advances occurring at the Lower Snake River Dams is already leading the way for significantly improved fish passage rates. We have seen tremendous progress, and I will continue to support efforts to improve salmon survivability. I am steadfast in my commitment to support our dams and the countless benefits they provide to Central Washington, including a vibrant native salmon population."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash): "These dams are the beating heart of Eastern Washington and provide the entire Pacific Northwest with clean, renewable, reliable, and affordable energy. Spending more than $33 billion to breach them—with no guarantee that doing so will restore salmon populations—is a drastic, fiscally irresponsible leap to take. I look forward to continued conversations with my colleagues on the importance of the Lower Snake River Dams and solutions that will benefit all users of the Columbia River System."
NW RiverPartners: "We are encouraged that the scale of the plan’s budget reflects the tremendous value that the lower Snake River dams bring to the region. That long-debated topic is effectively put to rest by the proposal’s significant price tag. Like Rep. Simpson, we also have a vision for regional collaboration that moves the Northwest beyond the courtroom and towards partnership. ... While we remain open-minded about the Simpson proposal, there are several key issues in the plan that need to be addressed before we can consider it a fair and equitable solution for our Northwest communities."
Save Our Wild Salmon: "This is an opportunity that comes around once-in-a-generation: a proposal that not only offers our salmon and steelhead hope, but a chance for the Inland Northwest to secure investments to build our economy in the coming decades. The transportation, energy and community investments built into this proposal chart a new future for our region that supports both farmers and fishermen."
Public Power Council:"Everyone in the Northwest power sector should recognize this is a highly complex and multi-dimensional concept, and in order to fully understand it and the associated implications, risks, opportunities and consequences, the Public Power Council is embarking on a structured and detailed analysis. This approach aligns with our core mission in service to Northwest public power, and our plan is to partner with our members to analyze—at least initially—four key areas: legislative, legal, economic and generation resources."
NW Energy Coalition: "Rep. Simpson has put forward a bold framework that challenges all stakeholders in the region to come together and craft enduring solutions to restore Columbia Basin salmon and support the expansion of our clean energy economy and infrastructure. We hope this effort works in collaboration with the objectives outlined by the four Northwest governors early in 2020. We look forward to reviewing the details outlined by Rep. Simpson and engaging in the dialogue he's invited. The framework outlined by Rep. Simpson recognizes that the electricity industry is in the midst of dramatic change driven by climate change and technological innovation. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is a vital contributor to the region's electricity system as both a power marketer and a transmission system operator. This proposal recognizes the opportunity to modernize the regional electricity system, including BPA's role and its investments, to provide more benefits for all stakeholders. It proposes investments that could enhance the core system of the existing power and transmission resources and improve the financial stability of BPA to deliver reliable and affordable energy services."
Pacific Northwest Waterways Association: "This plan would remove highly functional run-of-river dams with world-class fish passage that provide fundamental benefits like clean energy and efficient commerce to our region, and put the region on track for higher carbon emissions and an increase in climate change. It is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, and ultimately is a disservice to our region’s fish. Rep. Simpson’s proposal to replace barging on the Snake River with additional rail and truck traffic would lead to significant carbon emissions increases in our region at a time when our leaders have pledged to move us in a greener direction. While rail and truck are important and have their place in our region, those two modes also have much higher rates of injuries and fatalities associated with them, when compared to barging. The impact to human life and safety in northern Idaho and eastern and central Washington should also be considered."
Association of Northwest Steelheaders: "The recreational angling community has been pressing for salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin for decades. Today, Rep. Simpson answered our calls with a blueprint for the largest river and salmon restoration effort in history, while also creating jobs and strengthening the regional energy and agriculture sectors. We applaud his dedication and look to our regional delegates to engage with Simpson's proposal to bring urgent innovative solutions to this issue."
Port of Clarkston: "Southern Idaho, Simpson’s area of representation, has not had over 120 years of river transportation in its DNA—dating back to before Idaho became a state. This experience has formed our region’s culture and values and impacted our day-to-day activities. In order to fully understand impacts of what he is proposing and its degradation to our economy and way of life, he should engage with community leaders from the entire region. Keeping the four lower Snake River dams open for business helps protect lives, jobs, farmers, our regional and national economy and helps feed people around the world."
Idaho Conservation League: "U.S. Congressman Simpson's infrastructure proposal is bold, comprehensive, and urgently needed for Idahoans and the people of the Northwest. The Idaho Conservation League believes it addresses many of the challenges facing Idahoans and others in the region, and ensures that communities and stakeholders work together to build solutions for a prosperous and abundant future. For too long, interests have been pitted against each other. This comprehensive proposal pays attention to all stakeholders. Its scale would end years of conflict and break us out of the status quo. The Northwest will not succeed on salmon, energy, agriculture, or in creating healthy communities and robust economies for all unless we build a plan that benefits all. This proposal charts a path forward and provides the sort of ideas the region needs if we are to work together for a shared destiny, a prosperous and abundant future for all."
American Rivers: "We applaud the fresh thinking and comprehensive nature of Congressman Simpson’s framework. His inclusive and groundbreaking effort is a starting point toward a solution to recovery salmon, modernize infrastructure, create jobs and strengthen communities regionwide. We’ve seen how investing in smart infrastructure and healthy rivers can revitalize local economies, and we believe that by working together we can achieve a future of abundance and prosperity in the Pacific Northwest."
Washington Grain Commission: "Removing four Snake River dams flies in the face of reality for salmon, is illogical from an environmental perspective and hurts industry and communities. Only four of the 13 ESA listed salmon runs even swim past the Lower Snake River dams and they do so with over 95 percent transit survival. Removing them does not solve the salmon issue. Eliminating the dams does remove navigation, the most environmentally friendly, safest and most reliable mode of transporting wheat to market. It also removes clean renewable hydropower and increases carbon. We oppose such moves in the wrong direction for salmon, the environment and the wheat industry."
National Wildlife Federation: "Healthy populations of wild salmon and steelhead are essential for Northwest Tribes, local economies, and the region's way of life—and they're running out of time. Congressman Mike Simpson has put forward a comprehensive, visionary framework that would not only restore Northwest salmon, but modernize essential energy and infrastructure in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, diversify local economies and strengthen communities—all of which will create tens of thousands of good jobs. Rep. Simpson's innovative framework is a strong starting point for bipartisan discussions in Congress and with the Biden Administration to forge a durable solution—and we look forward to working to transform this framework into a comprehensive, bipartisan bill."
Idaho Wheat Commission: "We're proud to grow the best quality wheat you'll find anywhere. But we can't feed the world if we can't get it to market. The existence of barging as a transportation mode helps to discipline rail and trucking rates, ensuring that the price of moving goods in the Pacific Northwest remains competitive. Without barging, Idaho wheat growers are severely disadvantaged. Multiple modes of transportation to Portland help us better serve our customers and be regarded as a reliable supplier throughout the world."