McMorris Rodgers Continues Push For Answers About Biden’s Plans to Breach Lower Snake River Dams

Washington, D.C. – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) continued her search for answers about the Biden administration’s potential plans to breach the Lower Snake River dams at today’s Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee hearing titled “Left in the Dark: Examining the Biden Administration’s Efforts to Eliminate the Pacific Northwest’s Clean Energy Production.”

This hearing comes just two weeks after Cathy led a group of Northwest lawmakers in asking President Joe Biden for additional information on a “package of actions and commitments” the United States Government negotiated with plaintiffs, states, and tribes in ongoing litigation over Columbia River System Operations (CRSO).

While administration officials were invited – and declined – to take part in today’s fact-finding hearing, the following witnesses did participate:

  • Mr. Scott Simms, CEO & Executive Director of Public Power Council
  • Mr. Neil Maunu, Executive Director of Pacific Northwest Waterways Association
  • Ms. Humaira Falkenberg, Power Resources Manager for Pacific County PUD
  • Mr. Lindsay Slater, VP of Government Relations for Trout Unlimited

Click here or the image above to watch Cathy’s full exchange during today’s hearing.

Rodgers: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for allowing me to join today on a very important discussion, a very important topic for the people that I represent in Eastern Washington.

In the Pacific Northwest, hydropower accounts for more than 70 percent of the energy in our region, and yet “dam breach” or “dam breaching” is mentioned 11 times throughout this exclusionary and secretive package of commitments, which I would like to submit for the record.

The package also calls for including and advancing an “urgent, comprehensive strategy to restore salmon and steelhead to healthy and abundant levels.”

Click here or the image above to watch Cathy’s exchange with Mr. Neil Maunu.

Rodgers: Mr. Maunu, from your understanding, how is the administration defining the terms “healthy and abundant?” Do you think this is the correct measure to be using?

Maunu: Super short answer is no, I don’t know. We think everyone can agree that “healthy and abundant” sounds great … but for this specific litigation … it’s around the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and it’s around jeopardy. It’s not around healthy and abundant.

Rodgers: Thank you, and I would just note that term is not included in ESA. That term has never been defined by Congress.

Click here or the image above to watch Cathy’s exchange with Ms. Humaira Falkenberg.

Rodgers: Last month, we wrote a letter to the president asking questions to help us determine exactly what this agreement means for those whose livelihoods depend on the dams. Although we have yet to receive a response, it seems that the U.S. Government plans to replace the 24/7 baseload energy provided by the dams with intermittent renewable energy under a new Pacific Northwest Tribal Energy Program.

Ms. Falkenberg, in his testimony, Mr. Slater states that “these dams contribute less than 1,000 megawatts annually.” Is that accurate, and can you speak to the value these dams bring to the region? 

Falkenberg: At average water, a thousand average megawatts of electricity is generated out of the Lower Snake River dams. The nameplate capacity for these projects is between 2,500 to 3,000 megawatts. These projects provided … 25 percent of ancillary services … operating reserves that trigger on demand, on an emergency-need basis. So when there is a polar vortex and we need to turn them on, they go on.

Click here or the image above to watch Cathy’s exchange with Mr. Scott Simms.

Rodgers: Mr. Simms, in a recent statement, you said “this package of commitments poses the single greatest threat to the vitality of the region’s hydropower system we have ever faced.” Can you briefly explain what you mean by that? 

Simms: It’s a package of issues between the operational side and the uncertainty that it faces, the monstrous costs that would be foisted upon public power, and of course the litigation uncertainty that would continue. There is no forbearance, meaning other parties could simply pile on lawsuits and other operational constraints for BPA and its customers. 

Click here or the image above to watch Cathy’s exchange with Mr. Lindsay Slater.

Rodgers: Mr. Slater, I’d like to ask what Trout Unlimited has done to help clean up water pollution in places like Puget Sound, which according to GAO is a mass contributor to the lethal and nonlethal effects on salmon most critical to the endangered orca?

Slater: We’re doing significant conservation projects and work in the Puget Sound. The rivers became disconnected from the Sound, and we have to reconnect it. We have to get the culverts replaced with salmon safe passage, and there’s a lot of work to be done.

Rodgers: What salmon runs are most important to the orcas?

Slater: Snake River runs are apparently important to the orcas.

Rodgers: Which ones are most important?

Slater: On a scientific basis, I couldn’t tell you which exact one.

Rodgers: I believe it’s Puget Sound, and those salmon runs are on decline because of the mass lethal and nonlethal effects of pollution … and the salmon runs on the Lower Snake are improving.

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