Serving Franklin County, WA

Dam compact words matter

Let’s take a few words that should be on the minds of all Eastern Washingtonians concerned over efforts to breach Snake River dams — agreement, restoration and sovereign, to name a few.

Last Thursday in the White House, President Joe Biden signed onto the “Commitments in Support of the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative and in Partnership with the Six Sovereigns” agreement. The so-called “sovereigns” refers to the states of Washington and Oregon, and four tribes — the Yakama in Washington, Warm Springs and Umatilla in Oregon, and Nez Perce in Idaho.

Should the Snake River dams be breached, the compact calls for handing over $1 billion and authority on 1-3 gigawatts “clean energy” power generation and Snake River salmon habitat restoration to the four tribes, none of which have adjacent reservations. It was written behind closed doors in an effort to appease extreme environmentalists suing to breach dams under the guise of salmon restoration.

The compact is a blatant end run around Congress and long-established federal law, as well as nearby residents, visitors, farmers and agricultural interests.

Here’s where words matter.

First, the states of Washington and Oregon are not as “sovereign” as Gov. Jay Inslee and President Biden would have you believe. As states, Oregon and Washington are required to follow the U.S. Constitution, federal law and more.

The Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court case law prevent states from signing long-term, far-reaching agreements affecting multiple states. Congress is charged with that responsibility.

The U.S. Supreme Court has more than 150 years of case law that says long-term and far-reaching agreements are essentially treaties. But the federal government stopped signing treaties with sovereign American Indian tribes about 150 years ago.

So, such an “agreement” would take an act of Congress.

Without congressional approval, such a broad-reaching compact would not be legal.

Simply put, neither Gov. Jay Inslee nor President Biden has the authority to turn over such far-reaching authorities to tribal governments without an act of Congress first.

And what about restoration?

In this case, the language is not truly about restoration; it’s about giving non-Snake River tribes the ability to “rewild” the river as they see fit. It’s about giving tribes the ability to shape non-reservation river habitat, while also controlling power generation and costs, recreation and agriculture, among others. It’s about making the region into something new, with new brokers — not beholden to the general public — at the helm.

That’s correct, not beholden. As the tribes are “sovereign,” they do not answer to the general American public or utility ratepayers.

This compact strips the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of much of its responsibility to manage the river, bed, shoreline and commerce, as required under federal navigable waters of the U.S. laws.

The granting of such far-reaching authorities requires an act of Congress. And such an act should only be drafted and passed with substantial input from adjacent governments, residents, ratepayers and farmers, and agricultural interests. If and when the dams are breached, congressional hands shouldn’t be tied by this pact.

In this case, the words used by those giving the pact a thumbs up are a preface of the authority to be handed off without Congressional approval if they go unchallenged. The words matter.

— Roger Harnack is the owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Email him at [email protected].

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

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Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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