Washington, D.C. – Today, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) led an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on President Biden’s plan to dismantle the Lower Snake River dams.
In December, the Biden administration announced an agreement the United States Government negotiated with plaintiffs in ongoing litigation over Columbia River System Operations (CRSO). This agreement, which advocates for the breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams to recover endangered salmon without sound science to back it up, includes a five-year stay in the litigation with the potential for an additional five-year extension.
Stakeholders from the Pacific Northwest who were excluded from the mediation process also joined the hearing to testify on the devastating impacts dam removal would have on the region, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), Washington Grain Commission, and Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA).
Below are Cathy’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“The Columbia River System is the beating heart of the Pacific Northwest. This critical infrastructure helped transform our region into one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.
“It serves as a super-marine highway for farmers to ship their products all across America, while keeping thousands of trucks off the road every year. The dams along the Lower Snake River have strengthened our energy grid, lowered energy costs, and made us a leader in reducing carbon emissions.
“They help prevent life-threatening blackouts during extreme weather not just in Washington state but in California, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming, and support a thriving tourism economy and small businesses. They even protect parts of our region from devastating floods.
“To put it simply: the Columbia River System is critical to our entire way of life.
MISGUIDED MEDIATION AGREEMENT
“Unfortunately, some people don’t see it that way, including a few of our witnesses here today.
“For more than two years, the Biden administration worked behind closed doors with a select group of radical environmentalists to develop a secret package of actions and commitments that would temporarily settle litigation over the future of our river system.
“The agreement was released last month, and I’m deeply concerned it advances efforts to remove the four Lower Snake River dams.
“While the administration will say only Congress has the authority to breach the dams, they wasted no time entering into commitments that bypassed Congress and agreeing to spend more than $1 BILLION dollars to achieve their political goal.
“What’s worse is that despite my repeated calls for transparency, the White House actively and deliberately left out the voices of those who depend on the river system most. Dozens of stakeholders and utility companies practically begged to be heard in this process only to be turned away, shut out, and ignored.
“I’m sure our witnesses will say they spoke to everyone, but they’re not being honest. I have heard from many who the administration didn’t talk to, and I will be submitting letters from them for the record.
BIDEN’S RADICAL AGENDA
“This process was never about getting results for endangered salmon. It was a reckless pursuit of an activist agenda … a misguided mission to tear out the dams … with no scientific data to back it up.
“In fact, this agreement relies almost entirely on an inconclusive NOAA report, which the administration acknowledges may not save the salmon. It also fails to acknowledge our historic investments that have made the dams nearly transparent to fish.
“But apparently, a few unelected bureaucrats at the White House think they know better than the people whose lives depend on them. Sadly, this level of arrogance is not surprising. Afterall, it isn’t the first time an administration has felt empowered to impose its will on the Pacific Northwest.
FAILED SPOTTED OWL PLAN
“In the 1990s – after countless lawsuits – the federal government came up with a Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl and locked up millions of acres of forest without scientific evidence to support such a drastic decision.
“This devastated timber communities. Thousands of people lost their jobs. Our forests became diseased and bug-infested, which led to catastrophic wildfires.
“Now, almost 40 years later, the Spotted Owl population in the Pacific Northwest has declined by nearly 70 percent thanks to the invasive barred owl and a misguided plan that didn’t work.
“No one has ever been held accountable for the harm this did – and no one will be – which is how we find ourselves here today fighting another plan we didn’t ask for.
“We all share the goal of recovering endangered salmon populations, but we have to focus on what will actually get results like addressing the exploding sea lion population at the mouth of the Columbia River, prioritizing habitat restoration, and improving ocean conditions.
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
“If we don’t learn from the past, history is bound to repeat itself. We are seeing it happen right before our eyes.
“The Lower Snake River dams are not the problem – and breaching them is not the solution. The sooner we accept that reality, the sooner we can get back to having a regional dialogue that includes ALL voices and achieving our shared goals.
“This is something the Biden administration fails to understand, and I look forward to exposing the truth about their plan to destroy the lives of the people I represent in today’s hearing.
“Thank you, I yield back.”
Questioning Administration Officials
During the hearing, Cathy had the opportunity to question high-ranking Biden administration officials and representatives from various government agencies, including: the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), U.S. Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), and United States Army (Civil Works).
Here are a few of the moments you may have missed from the exchanges:
Brenda Mallory, Chair, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
Rodgers: Chair Mallory, do you agree that only Congress has authority to remove the Lower Snake River Dams?
Rodgers: In your testimony you mentioned that you have received hundreds of emails from the public and stakeholders on this issue since the agreement was signed. Would you classify the groups being represented on the second panel today – whose lives will be upended if the dams were removed – as “stakeholders?”
Rodgers: How many emails have you received from the public opposed to the agreement?
Mallory: I have not gone through every one of those emails. I don’t know whether those folks also sent emails.
Rodgers: I have 40 letters here that I’ll enter into the record … representing thousands of people in the Pacific Northwest. CEQ cut a secret backroom deal to please radical environmentalists who are profiting from a campaign to tear out our dams. You ignored the science and the law and there will be consequences for that.
Rodgers: Chair Mallory,can you tell me how many tribes are in Washington state?
Mallory: Actually congresswoman, I can’t.
Rodgers: How many tribes were included in this agreement?
Mallory: The litigation parties related to this agreement included four specific tribes.
Rodgers: Do you believe that removing the Snake River dams will guarantee our salmon runs are restored?
Mallory: I believe that the information that we have on the Snake River dams is based on what NOAA has told us and represents the scientific view.
Rodgers: Ignoring predation, pollution, habitat loss, ocean conditions. For those who are saying this is going to provide certainty, it’s certainty for five years with the possibility of another five years. There’s still more work to be done.
John Hairston, Administrator and CEO, Bonneville Power Administration
Rodgers: If the Lower Snake River Dams were breached, what would it mean for the region’s electricity rates?
Hairston: Most likely, they will go up.
Rodgers: What would it mean for grid reliability?
Hairston: It could have a diminishing impact on reliability.
Rodgers: Would it result in more carbon emissions?
Hairston: I couldn’t tell you.
Rodgers: When you think of Washington state, what do you think of weather wise? Rain. But CEQ is deciding we’re going to go solar. Isn’t that sweet?
Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Rodgers: The science on endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest shows that there are multiple threats – from pollution in the Puget Sound, to illegal fishing, to predation by sea lions and other natural predators – isn’t that correct?
Coit: Yes, there is a multitude of threats.
Rodgers: Does the Endangered Species Act say anything about restoring “healthy and abundant” salmon?
Coit: No, that is not in the Endangered Species Act.
Rodgers: Do you believe we can restore “healthy and abundant” populations of salmon without tearing out the dams?
Coit: Our report concludes that in order to give the best possible chance of restoring salmon, we’d need to breach the Lower Snake River dams.
Rodgers: Behind me is a graphic showing the five runs listed as in crisis in Washington state. Only 1 passes through the Lower Snake River dams. Ms. Coit, if only one of these runs pass through the Lower Snake River dams, then how does NOAA determine that the Lower Snake River Dams are the main source of the problem?
Coit: I think what we’re saying is the Lower Snake River dams are part of the factors that put salmon at risk, not they they are the one thing. So it’s a suite of actions that put salmon at risk, not just the dams.
Pacific Northwest Stakeholder Testimony
Following her questioning of witnesses involved in the mediation process and development of the agreement, Cathy led a second panel in which stakeholders from the Pacific Northwest shared their experience throughout this process and the devastating impact breaching the Lower Snake River dams would have on the region.
Here are a few of the highlights from their testimony:
Jim Matheson, CEO, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
Matheson: Wind and solar simply don’t work as direct, one-to-one replacements for hydropower in the Pacific Northwest. […] This settlement process sets a dangerous precedent of exclusion. CEQ, the federal mediation team, and the individuals that were given the privilege to negotiate should not be proud of this settlement. It undermines trust in the federal government, will lead to additional litigation, and will harm electric reliability.
Rodgers: The White House is arguing the agreement keeps energy affordable. It doesn’t sound like that to me. As a customer of BPA, what’s your perspective on the impact on rates?
Matheson: They’re saying it doesn’t have a big impact on rates because they’re not including the cost of the replacement power. If you want to build replacement power when you breach these dams, which I don’t think you can do and have the same comparable resource by the way, you’re going to spend a lot of money and it will have a big impact on rates.
Casey Chumrau, CEO, Washington Grain Commission
Chumrau: Due to this process’s secrecy, agriculture voices were largely excluded from discussion regarding impacts and commitments for funding and mitigation. It would take
113,187 semi-trailers each year carrying 910 bushels of wheat to replace the 103 million
bushels shipped on the Snake River via barge annually. That is 310 more trucks each
day, making round trips to the Tri-Cities, 365 days per year. Should the LSRD be breached, the essential irrigation provided will no longer be available to the family-farmers who have come to rely on them, especially as drought creates immense challenges during the growing season.
CLICK HERE to read Casey Chumrau’s full testimony.
Rodgers: It’s clear the agreement was written with little to no input from agriculture stakeholders. How would breaching the dams impact agriculture in the Pacific Northwest, the country, and internationally?
Chumrau: In the Pacific Northwest specifically, we export 80 percent of all of our wheat production, and those Lower Snake River dams carry 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports. Obviously, we depend on them very much to get our products to market. Across the country, we export 55 percent of all U.S. wheat out of the Pacific Northwest, and the ability to put the 10 percent on barging opens up capacity for the other commodities to come through our region from the Midwest.
Neil Maunu, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA)
Maunu: The USG Commitments and actions are based on unproven science, fail to consider the devastating regional and national economic impacts of dam removal, fail to align with transportation decarbonization goals, and ignore the impact on economically disadvantaged communities. The four LSRDs are critical assets in our nation’s multi-modal transportation network, helping all sectors achieve efficient and economical operations.
Rodgers: How would breaching the dams impact transportation and supply chain security in the region? This is considered a marine highway.
Maunu: We were talking about grain and wheat farmers and shippers being price takers not price makers. So when you effect the price of bushel and transportation costs that would increase from rail and trucking – which as we discussed is not physically possible – then those rates would go up dramatically.
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