Secret dam-breaching pact released
Leaked plan: Tribes would take over power
Last updated 1/3/2024 at 10:59am
WASHINGTON D.C. - The Biden and Inslee administrations have been colluding secretly with extremist environmental groups and four tribal governments on plans to breach dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers.
A "confidential mediation document - not for distribution" on their dam-breaching efforts was leaked to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers last week, and then to the media Wednesday, Nov. 29.
McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, represents Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District, which includes the Snake River dams.
The document outlines a proposed agreement between six agencies in connection with a lawsuit filed by several extreme environmental activists represented by Earthjustice. A hearing on that lawsuit is set for Dec. 15.
The agreement calls for Lower Snake River salmon and steelhead restoration through "actions and investments necessary to secure continuity of services associated with Lower Snake River restoration prior to LRS dam breaching."
The "services" refer to power generation, among others.
Under the secret agreement, the federal Department of Energy, USDA and other agencies would provide funds to tribes to create and manage new power generation systems, effectively handing over control of up to 3,000 Megawatts of power generation to tribal managers under the auspices of a Pacific Northwest Tribal Energy Program.
"This new, clean tribally-sponsored energy will be planned as "replacement" power for the lower Snake River dams if Congress authorizes the breath of those dams."
The Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes would be the only beneficiaries of the proposed tribal energy program.
"In other words, the feds, under this leaked plan, would allow several tribes to be in charge of developing and providing power for the region, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants and loans to help the tribes get this massive alternative-energy system off the ground," Sen. Mark Schoesler said last week after learning of the secret sessions and plan. "If this plan to kill Washington's lower Snake River dams actually becomes reality, your power sometime in the future could be provided by sovereign tribes that are not regulated by the feds or the state.
The plan also calls for upgrading railroads, roads and other transportation necessities should the dams be breached and barging opportunities diminish.
While the plan focuses initially on the Snake River, it also calls for restoration of salmon and steelhead runs on the Upper Columbia River, above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams, which do not have fish ladders.
The leaked documents have sparked outrage among local officials, farmers, lawmakers and river-users.
"Our organizations have repeatedly looked for ways to find common ground with the plaintiffs' concerns during the mediation process, submitting numerous inputs, documents, and studies," a statement released by Northwest River Partners said. "Instead of working with all interests, the U.S. government chose for months to hold secret negotiations and refused to share any details with us, let alone allow our participation."
Northwest River Partners includes numerous utilities and others that rely on dams.
"This proposal turns its back on over 3 million electricity customers, as well as the farming, transportation, navigation and economic needs of the region," Northwest River Partners said. "By purposely excluding our respective organizations from the negotiations, literally millions of northwest residents were deprived of fair representation in this process."
The secret meetings and document also raised the ire of Sen. Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who represents the 9th Legislative District, which includes the Snake River dams in Washington state.
"The future of the four lower Snake River dams is even less certain after a news leak this week shows the federal government is secretly considering removing the dams... as a way to settle a lawsuit against the dams," he said. "What's especially bad is that those most affected by such a decision – the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on these four dams, including wheat growers, barge operators, public utility districts, the Clarkston Chamber of Commerce, recreational businesses and more – have not been allowed at the table during these secret negotiations.
"To put it another way, the pro-dams people are not being allowed to come to this dance."
Schoesler called the secret pact "inexcusable."
"The fate of these four dams should not be decided without input or a defense provided by those who live in our region and rely on the dams," he said.
Schoesler noted that under treaties, the tribes operate as independent "nations," meaning they would not be held accountable by Eastern Washington voters and non-tribal ratepayers.
"I'm very concerned that the tribes could not be held accountable to the public or the taxpayers who would provide all of this money for them to create and run their own regional power empire," he said.