McMorris Rodgers Demands Transparency, Access to Secret Package in Columbia River System Operations Mediation

Washington, D.C. – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) joined Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Cliff Bentz (OR-02), and Russ Fulcher (ID-01) in demanding the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) grant immediate access to the “package of actions and commitments” recently negotiated in the mediation concerning the Columbia River System Operations.

On October 31, 2023, the legal stay in the long-running court litigation related to the Columbia River System Operations expired. A 45-day stay extension was approved to allow federal mediation to continue. Shortly thereafter, federal defendants and plaintiffs filed a report to the court regarding the future of the litigation. In the status update report, the document noted the following:

“During the extended stay, representatives from the United States, and staff teams for the National Wildlife Federation et al. Plaintiffs, the State of Oregon, the State of Washington, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe (collectively, “Parties”), have developed a package of actions and commitments that they intend to discuss with the other regional sovereigns and litigation parties and, following conferral, present to the Parties’ decision-makers for final review and approval. If approved, the Parties intend to ask this Court to enter a multi-year stay of the litigation to allow the Parties to implement this package of actions and commitments.

In a letter to Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the lawmakers wrote:

“In addition to expecting the immediate transmittal of the proposed USG commitments, we find it necessary to remind you Congress alone has the authority not only to order the breach of the Lower Snake River Dams, but also exclusive authority to direct the study of breaching or to authorize replacement resources.

“This is statutory fact, and we warn the administration not to attempt to circumvent that fact through clever wordsmithing.”

The letter is supported by stakeholders directly affected by the results of the mediation including TRIDEC, Washington Wheat Association, Public Power Council, and Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

“The four lower Snake River dams, along with the energy, navigation, and irrigation benefits they provide, are critically important to the Tri-Cities and the entire Pacific Northwest. The many stakeholders who stand to be impacted by the outcome of this mediation deserve a seat at the table and to have their voices heard. This is a basic tenet of our system of government, and it is fundamentally unfair for select groups to be left out of the decision-making process on an issue that affects them directly. We sincerely appreciate Representatives Newhouse, McMorris Rodgers, Fulcher, and Bentz for their work to address this concern, and we hope that in the future all impacted parties will have an opportunity to participate.” – Karl Dye, President & CEO, TRIDEC

“We are appreciative of the efforts of Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Russ Fulcher, demanding transparency in federal processes that have broad-reaching impacts on stakeholder communities including, the Washington wheat industry. We have said all along that healthy salmon and dams can coexist, but this can only happen through cooperative work and the ability for all stakeholders to come together in a productive way. Lack of clear direction and transparency from the Federal government only hinders the ability of that progress.” – Michelle Hennings, Executive Director, Washington Wheat Association

“The people of the Pacific Northwest have really been let down by this so-called process being run by the Council on Environmental Quality. Our non-profit, community-owned member utilities and their customers were never given a real chance from the get-go, as we just recently learned a few parties in the litigation were working secretly with the federal government for more than six months on a ‘package of actions and commitments.’ We can’t wait for the day when the current confidentiality gag order is lifted on those proposed actions and commitments and everyone gets to see for themselves the level of uncertainty and prospective new costs that are being proposed for Northwest citizens as a result of these secret dealings.” – Scott Simms, CEO & Executive Director, Public Power Council (PPC)

“We are deeply disappointed in the flawed process that resulted in the creation of the USG Actions and Commitments document. Despite our organization’s extensive efforts to contribute as industry and subject matter experts, our input was overlooked for months while the plaintiffs engaged in secretive negotiations with the Council on Environmental Quality. This failure to consider the expertise and perspective of our members who rely on the critical navigation services provided by the system has left us with grave concerns about the credibility and fairness of the resulting package of actions and commitments. We urge transparency and fairness in this process and call on this administration to do so.” – Neil Maunu, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association

CLICK HERE to read the full letter.

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