Governor Should Reconsider
Upon hearing Gov. Kate Brown’s intent to sue the federal government over how it manages the federal Columbia River system, I was disappointed but not surprised at her decision. I encourage her to reconsider.
In October, the governor committed to participating with Washington, Idaho and Montana—known as the four-state process—to define a collaborative framework to find common ground to restore a healthy salmon population without adversely impacting affordable electricity and local economies.
Yet right before Thanksgiving, Brown directed the state of Oregon to file a 60-day notice of intent to sue the federal government over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2020 environmental impact statement. The scientific study examined the potential impacts on fish and wildlife from proposed hydroelectric operations and found the recommended operations were consistent with the Endangered Species Act.
At issue is the governor’s unwillingness to accept the EIS’s recommendations. The three-year study, produced by multiple federal agencies, did not include breaching or removing the lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington, a critical component of the Bonneville Power Administration’s hydroelectric Columbia River system. The dams produce 1,000 average megawatts of reliable, carbon-free energy annually—enough to power more than 800,000 Northwest homes, including 500,000 in Oregon.
Instead, through her actions, the governor dismissed the EIS before its completion as she publicly released a letter early last year calling for the removal or breaching of the four lower Snake River dams.
Brown claimed removing the dams would “simultaneously address both the orca and salmon recovery dilemma” in the region. However, she chooses to ignore that successful fish-passage technology at the lower Snake River dams achieved a juvenile dam passage survival objective of 96% to Chinook salmon and steelhead, according to a 2017 NOAA Fisheries study.
I have shared in this space before that removing the dams would create the need to replace lost energy at an estimated cost of $860 million to ratepayers. Ironically, the loss of available energy would need to be offset by energy sources with higher carbon content, undermining the governor’s long-term carbon reduction goals.
All parties involved come to the discussions with different perspectives but are committed to finding a consensus on a viable solution. What is so disappointing in the latest turn of events is how the governor’s litigation threatens to undermine the four-state process before it has earnestly begun and stalls momentum for any collaborative dialogue. As a result, the legitimacy of the process may be dead on arrival.
Rather than resort to litigation, I respectfully urge the governor to reconsider and come back to the table for the good of Oregon and the region.