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Ag stakeholders reject White House draft reports on dam breaching

 July 13, 2022

Lower Monumental Dam

Agricultural industry representatives have roundly criticized a pair of White House draft reports on breaching four lower Snake River dams, saying the documents fail to consider the greater impact on the environment and the economy.

According to the "Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead" draft report, actions with the highest potential to achieve "midrange abundance goals" for salmon recovery include significant reductions in direct and indirect mortality from mainstem dams, including breaching one or more lower Snake River dams.

Another study, titled “BPA Lower Snake River Dams Power Replacement Study,” weighs power production scenarios and costs associated with replacing the electrical power from the four federal dams on the Lower Snake River, "in the event Congress were to authorize such an action."

That study offers "two scenarios that assume that emerging energy technologies become commercially available," and finds replacing the energy and grid services provided by the dams is "possible," predicting a cost ranging from $11 billion to $19 billion.

The study was conducted with significant input from two plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit seeking dam breaching, said Heather Stebbings, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

The report examines replacing hydroelectricity benefits associated with the dams, but contains no mention of impacts to agriculture or the transportation network, Stebbings told the Capital Press.

"The idea of breaching the dams on the Lower Snake River would have a devastating economic impact on the livelihood of wheat growers beyond the PNW," Nicole Berg, Paterson, Wash., wheat farmer and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said in a NAWG press release. "NAWG has serious concerns about these reports and encourages the administration to engage with the agricultural industry because breaching these dams will adversely impact wheat growers who are already facing economic pressures from inflation and lingering supply chain issues.”

The Columbia Snake River System enables reliable wheat transportation to more than 20 countries around the Pacific Rim, according to NAWG.

“According to the report commissioned by the Biden administration’s BPA, Snake River dam removal would force ratepayers to gamble $75 billion or an increase in carbon emissions against technology that is not yet available," Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, said in a press release. "We all want emerging technologies to be viable, but we cannot bet our climate and the health and safety of our region on something that doesn’t yet exist."

The report estimates that dam replacement without any emerging technologies — hydrogen, advanced nuclear and carbon capture — would require additions of 12 gigawatts of wind and solar energy at $42 billion to $77 billion.

In a press release, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he has been clear in his opposition of dam breaching because it's not a silver bullet for salmon recovery.

“It is disappointing the Biden administration would release any report on dam breaching that does not take into account Idaho’s considerations in the Columbia Basin," Little stated. "If Biden is truly interested in identifying broadly supported solutions, I would encourage his administration to look at the 20 months of work our diverse Idaho Salmon Workgroup put into identifying 29 solutions that support salmon, our economy, and thriving communities."

"Only Congress has the authority to order the dams to be removed," said Sean Ellis, a spokesman for the Idaho Farm Bureau. "The president can have his own opinion on the matter, but Congress will be the one deciding."

Stebbings doesn't think Congress is willing to take up the concept of breaching the dams. The latest study "provides just a tiny piece of the pie," she said, 

In the 2020 "comprehensive" federal environmental impact statement, dam breaching was not recommended, she noted.

Stebbings cited the impacts upon the environment of removing the dams and their hydropower, and replacing barging with rail and trucks. 

"Removing the dams is a step backwards in the fight against climate change," she said.

The draft report will be transmitted to all state and tribal fish managers in the region for their review over the next 30 days, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"While the administration has not endorsed the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force’s goals at this time or the particular actions identified in today’s draft science report, it is carefully considering this information and ongoing regional efforts as it assesses long-term pathways for the Columbia River basin," the CEQ said in a press release.



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