A Comprehensive and Collaborative Strategy is Needed to Protect our Waterways

(Washington, D.C.)  Last week, I had the honor of being named Vice-Chair of the Resources Water and Power Subcommittee, a position that will enable me to further my work on important water and energy issues that are key to our region’s economy. For example, in June the Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing in Clarkston on the impact of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on the Snake and Columbia River systems and I am pleased that my new role as Vice-Chair will allow me to continue to bring these crucial issues to the national forefront.

Both in Congress and while working in the state legislature, I have found that we are often burdened with excessive regulations that ultimately lead to activist judges legislating from the bench. We have a system of checks and balances and laws should come from officials who are elected by the people and to whom they entrust that responsibility.

This is the root of the problem that we are currently experiencing with our river systems in the Pacific Northwest. Last June, Judge Redden issued an injunction requiring the agencies to provide for summer spill over some of the dams in the Columbia and Snake River system to protect salmon going out to sea. This was against the recommendation that spill actually hurts, not helps, salmon according to the National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration, Bonneville Power Administration, Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation. We wouldn’t let a judge dictate how we use our federal highway system and we shouldn’t let one tell us how to use our river systems. The summer spill injunction by Judge Redden ignores the progress that has been made to allow for both fish recovery and the use of dams and we must get this decision out of the courts and back into the communities. Our goal must be to find a balanced approach that preserves our environment and protects the economic interests of the region.

James Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), made a recent announcement that the Administration will be reducing the overall level of harvest and eliminating hatchery programs that impede recovery of salmon. Up until now, our efforts have mainly been focused on hydropower and habitat, while neglecting the impact of harvest and hatchery. I applaud the administration’s decision and believe we should not compromise these investments by killing the fish we are trying to save. The only way to truly achieve salmon recovery is to commit to a comprehensive and collaborative management strategy.

The Pacific Northwest depends on inexpensive renewable energy from our dams. The summer spill injunction imposed by Judge Redden costs rate payers in the Northwest $67 million a year, without guaranteeing that a single fish will be saved. Due to the mandate, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) estimates that rates will increase by four to five percent. Environmental experts state that last summer’s spill assisted between 25 to 30 adult salmon, meaning it cost rates payers between $250,000 to $3 million per fish.

This year I hope to introduce legislation that would require Power Administrations to list direct and indirect costs associated with ESA compliance as a line item on customer’s power bills. These extra costs equate to a salmon tax and I believe that customers should have the right to know how much salmon recovery is costing them and their family.

It is crucial that we work to protect our dams and rivers and recognize the vital role they play in Eastern Washington’s economy. We depend on our rivers and dams for energy, transportation, irrigation and recreation and I will continue this year to fight for what’s best for the Pacific Northwest. It is my hope that the passage of the Threatened Endangered Species Act, my work as chair of the National Environmental Policy Act taskforce, and my new position as Vice-Chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee will help alleviate some of the conflict between protecting the salmon and our rights to our river system.

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