Gov. Inslee resumes targeting dams
Last updated 11/2/2021 at 11:37pm
It’s no secret that Gov. Jay Inslee wants the removal of the four federal dams on the lower Snake River between Clarkston and the Tri-Cities.
Back in December 2018, his proposed 2019-21 operating budget included $750,000 for a state study on breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams.
U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, officials from electric utilities, ports and groups representing agriculture and economic development all opposed the spending item for the dam-breaching study. But did Inslee listen to these different groups and veto the study from the final operating budget passed by the Legislature the following spring? Nope.
The study was conducted, with predictably biased results.
Over the past 18 months, the governor had been fairly quiet on the Snake River dams, as he focused more on COVID-19 and his many proclamations, executive orders and restrictions – most notably his vaccine mandates that have left thousands of Washington workers out of work.
Unfortunately, Inslee’s focus is back on the dams.
Last week, he told a group at a virtual fundraiser organized by the Washington Conservation Voters, an environmental group, that he and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray are exploring options to breach the dams. This news about what he told his environmental allies has a definite backroom-deal feel to it that, if realized, will end up significantly costing taxpayers and electric-power ratepayers.
Inslee told the group that he and Murray are focusing on a “rigorous, robust and fast assessment of how to replace those services if we breach those dams,” adding that a report will be issued next summer.
Now, it’s possible that Inslee is just saying this to make his anti-dam friends happy. But if he and Murray are really serious about pursuing a plan to remove the dams, they need to at least engage with the people who use and rely on the dams: electric power consumers, irrigators, wheat growers, barge operators who ship the wheat downriver to the Pacific, boaters and other recreationalists and tour boat operators.
In his talk last week, Inslee admitted not knowing how to replace the clean power provided by the four Snake dams. The problem for our governor is that his preferred renewable energy sources don’t provide the steady energy foundation our region needs.
The wind doesn’t blow all the time, and solar panels generate power only when there is daylight. On a calm night, however, the dams still make power.
Removing the Snake River dams not only would make electric power less affordable (inexpensive power has been a key reason for our region’s economic success), it could result in lower power-generation capacity when there will be greater demand for electricity in the future.
During this past summer’s heat wave, the Bonneville Power Administration asked consumers in Eastern Washington to cut back on using power, even though the four Snake dams were running at full capacity. The threat of future brownouts or blackouts is real if we lose the output of these four dams.
Inslee and Murray need to remember the environmental impact statement released last year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration that recommended changes in dam spill rates to allow passage of migratory fish – but not breaching the four dams. It would be foolish and arrogant to go against the recommendations of these agencies.
Because these are federal dams, it’s up to the federal government – and not our governor – to decide their fate.
— Sen. Mark Schoesler represents the 9th Legislative District, including Franklin County. Email him at [email protected].