PASCO, Wash. – A pair of Republican Congressmen Wednesday questioned northwest leaders about the effects of the Snake River dams.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of federal money to remove dams — or even study the possibility without congressional approval. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., joined Hastings in support of what’s been dubbed the “Save Our Dams” bill.
“While some insist that the choice is dams or fish, it’s been proven, we can have dams and fish,” Hastings said at the beginning of the hearing.
Six Northwest leaders testified to what they say are the economic benefits and environmental drawbacks of the Snake River dams. Four panelists supported dam development. Two voiced opposition.
View Lower Snake River Dams in a larger map
Dam supporters packed the meeting room Hastings’ hometown of Pasco, Wash. Many held signs reading “Dams Power Seattle,” or “Dams: We Did Build These.” The crowd applauded to show support and grumbled at points from environmentalists.
Jim Yost, of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, said that 96 percent of renewable energy in the United States comes from hydropower. (Addressing hydropower as a renewable energy source is a key point in the Hastings bill. Right now, renewable energy standards in the Pacific Northwest do not include hydropower.)
Yost, who provided several comedic talking points, called wind power a fad. He compared it to the Beanie Baby craze of the 1990s.
“You load up the shelf, and you got all of these Beanie Babies, and what are they good for? Well, not much. It’s the same with wind. It’s just a fad,” Yost said.
Other panelists noted the value of irrigation to Washington farms. Chris Voigt is the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. He said dams help the Columbia Basin grow $750 million worth of potatoes.
“We need more dams, not less,” Voigt said.
Nez Perce Tribe member Rebecca Miles strongly disagreed. Miles, who was not speaking on behalf of the tribe, advocated for the removal of the Snake River dams.
“Our salmon and our people have borne the consequences of decisions to construct dams, such as the four dams on the lower Snake River,” Miles said, adding that every salmon and steelhead run the Nez Perce used to fish on is now either endangered or threatened.
Hastings stuck to his point. He said recent high sockeye counts and large predictions for fall runs show that salmon can live with dams.
“With the evidence of these fish runs that are coming back in greater numbers, does this not prove that dams and saving fish can coexist?” Hastings asked the panel.
Glen Spain questioned Hastings’ conclusion. He said too few salmon make it past the dams when ocean conditions are poor. Spain is the regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. The group opposes Hastings’ bill.
Hastings is an ardent defender of the four lower Snake River dams in his district. A coalition of salmon advocates, including Spain’s group, is calling for the dams’ removal.
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