Lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest have released a confidential mediation document that reveals discussions between the Biden administration and environmental groups seeking the removal of four hydroelectric dams in Washington to protect salmon.
Created on November 2, the document formed part of a temporary agreement to halt legal action against the federal government. Environmental groups contend that the necessity to breach the dams stems from the diminishing salmon populations in the lower Snake River, which traverses Idaho and Washington before converging with the Columbia River and flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
In a letter to President Biden, the lawmakers emphasized the need for their constituents, whose livelihoods depend on the Columbia River System, to understand the document’s contents comprehensively. They also expressed concerns about potential impacts on the region and the need to ensure that actions do not bypass congressional authorization.
The lawmakers, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, questioned the Biden administration’s intentions and requested clarification on the scientific basis for the agreement. They highlighted the importance of finding a solution to protect salmon populations and acknowledged the need for urgent action.
The mediation document additionally cited suggestions from Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray to swiftly implement green energy initiatives in the region as a countermeasure for the potential power loss resulting from dam removal. Nevertheless, reports have indicated that the elimination of the dams would have substantial adverse effects on energy production, climate objectives, and transportation
The dams were built in the 1960s and 1970s to improve navigability for barge transportation on the Snake River. Over time, they have become a reliable source of clean energy, providing approximately 8 percent of the state’s electricity. Removing the dams would likely require fossil fuel alternatives, increasing carbon emissions.
Industry groups have also raised concerns about the economic impact of removing the dams, particularly on agriculture exports. The Columbia River system is vital in transporting wheat, with barges carrying 60 percent of Washington’s annual wheat exports and 40 percent of the nation’s total wheat production.
The release of the mediation document has sparked controversy, with organizations representing power utilities, ports, and agriculture companies expressing frustration over being excluded from the negotiations. They argue that the proposed plan neglects the needs of millions of electricity customers and the region’s farming, transportation, navigation, and economic interests.
While the document sheds light on the ongoing discussions surrounding the dams, how the Biden administration will address the concerns raised by lawmakers and industry groups remains to be seen. The parties involved in the case may request a multiyear pause on litigation to allow for the agreement’s implementation.