Northwest Republican lawmakers are urging transparency in the discussions between the federal government and environmental groups supporting the removal of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
In a letter to Brenda Mallory, Chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, the lawmakers emphasize Congress’s authority in deliberating President Joe Biden’s potential actions concerning dam removal in the Columbia River Basin, a move purportedly aimed at revitalizing salmon populations.
“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,” the letter stated.
On October 31, a federal court in Oregon temporarily suspended a protracted lawsuit, granting a 45-day window for the conflicting parties to participate in negotiations. This pause is designed to protect endangered salmon populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
A joint court filing by the government and environmental groups disclosed the creation of a comprehensive set of initiatives and commitments for discussion among regional authorities and involved parties. Despite this, the details of the proposal were not revealed, prompting lawmakers to seek access to this information by December 1.
“Stakeholders and our constituents are concerned their long-standing contributions to the process have not been incorporated into the final product, nor their concerns heeded. If this were to happen, we are greatly concerned the package would not be reflective of the needs of people across the Pacific Northwest,” expressed the joint letter signed by Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Cliff Bentz (R-OR), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Russ Fulcher (R-ID).
In March, during a conservation summit at the Interior Department, President Biden committed to partnering with tribes and lawmakers to safeguard salmon populations in the basin. However, exclusion from the decision-making process has led to dissatisfaction among Republican legislators and Washington’s public power entities, including the Public Power Council.
Scott Simms, CEO and Executive Director of the Public Power Council, expressed disappointment, stating, “The people of the Pacific Northwest have really been let down by this so-called process being run by the Council on Environmental Quality.” Simms highlighted the sidelining of non-profit, community-owned utilities and their customers, revealing recent revelations of confidential discussions between select litigation parties and the federal government for over six months to create a ‘package of actions and commitments.’
While a September memo from the Biden administration didn’t explicitly endorse breaching the hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington state, it underscored the restoration of native fish populations, aligning with the administration’s treaty obligations with Pacific Northwest tribes.