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Hearing highlights importance of hydroelectric dams

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Guest Comment, Capital Press 6/27/08

Everyone is concerned about high gas prices. Whether you drive hundreds of miles a week or none at all, the high cost of gasoline and energy is affecting us all. There are many reasons for the rising energy prices - and many solutions. Meeting America's energy needs with American resources is important to our economy and to our national security.

One of those solutions to doing that is found right here in the Northwest. Hydroelectric dams across the West and especially in Washington State provide us with clean, affordable and renewable energy. In fact, dams provide nearly two-thirds of Washington State's electricity. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, these dams have kept the Pacific Northwest's "carbon footprint" at half that of the rest of the Nation.

As the lead Republican on the Water and Power Subcommittee, it is my goal to tell the "good news" story about hydropower as a renewable resource. That's why I requested, and recently chaired, a hearing about hydropower. Congress owes it to the American people to be honest and realistic about our domestic energy sources. The hearing was our first step toward giving the American people and those inside the Beltway much-needed information about hydropower, which is an environmental success story.

Senator Bob Morton (R-Kettle Falls), Avista Corporation's Director of Environmental Affairs Bruce Howard, Grant County PUD General Manager Tim Culbertson and others testified at the hearing. They underscored the importance of hydropower as a domestic, renewable and hydrocarbon-free energy resource, the need to maximize our use of hydropower and the success that technology has had in reducing salmon mortality at dams.

Despite this success, there are still some that continue to wage war on our dams, namely the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. What is missing from this debate is the fact that removal of the Snake River dams would add 5.4 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year and it would take three nuclear, six coal-fired, or 14 gas-fired power plants to replace their electricity generation. The dams also serve as the base resource for integrating wind energy into the Northwest grid.

I feel this hearing was the first step toward a better understanding in Congress about the value of hydropower and I look forward to forming a bipartisan Congressional Caucus to protect and promote hydropower.

The river systems throughout the Pacific Northwest are a critical part of our region's economy and should be used for transportation, irrigation and recreation. These dams built our economy and continue to contribute to our way of life. At a time of growing energy demand, it makes no sense to throw this clean energy source away. I am committed, as we move forward with the debate on global warming, that hydropower be recognized for the important role it plays in our markets.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers is a Congresswoman from the 5th Congressional District of Washington
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