Opinion: Power is Prosperity – The battle for the LSR dams

In her weekly column, Nancy Churchill applies the ‘prosperity principle’ to Washington state’s Columbia River Basin issue.


Nancy Churchill applies the ‘prosperity principle’ to Washington state’s Columbia River Basin issue

Nancy Churchill
Dangerous Rhetoric

In a presentation at the 2023 Alliance for Responsible Citizenship conference, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg gave a talk about climate change titled “Fixing Climate Change. But Smartly.” The presentation can be distilled into two primary ideas: Abundant energy lifts societies out of poverty and into prosperity. Lack of energy destroys societies and creates poverty. As Lomborg notes, “The more energy you have, the richer you are.”

Nancy Churchill
Nancy Churchill

We can see this “prosperity principle” in action every day in Washington state’s Columbia River Basin. The Columbia River Dams and Locks, known as the Columbia River System Operations, provide clean and reliable green energy, establish a green transportation corridor for barge traffic, and irrigate dry-land agriculture which creates an abundance of food that is shipped worldwide. An additional bonus is tourism drawn to fishing and boating opportunities. By creating a system of dams and reservoirs on the Columbia River, taxpayers in the past gifted today’s residents with abundance and prosperity.

So it’s unfortunate that there is an ongoing attack on Eastern Washington’s prosperity and energy independence with a scheme to breach the four Lower Snake River (LSR) dams. Recently, four Republican representatives, including Washington’s Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers (5th Congressional District) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (4th Congressional District) released a copy of the secret U.S. Government mediation document along with a letter asking for some answers from the Biden Administration.

According to an article in the Seattle Times, the Biden administration along with the states of Washington and Oregon have been in secret negotiations with four tribal nations on this matter.

Unfortunately, the negotiations have deliberately excluded other major stakeholders in the region, including other tribes as well as the power companies that manage and deliver affordable green and reliable energy to their customers. Since the four dams are federally owned and operated, only Congress has the authority to authorize their removal.

Who are the six sovereigns?

There are four tribes involved in these negotiations, which are identified as the Lower Columbia River Tribes: the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes. In addition, the states of Oregon and Washington are included as the two remaining “sovereigns.”

Proponents of breaching the dams argue that it’s necessary to “save the salmon.” While most Washington residents agree this is a worthy goal, there is very little consensus statewide on the best way to achieve it. There are many other less expensive and less destructive actions that could be taken to achieve that goal. Improving fish ladders, controlling sea lion predation at the mouth of the Columbia River and ending the dumping of raw sewage from inadequate King County sewer systems into the Puget Sound are several “easy” action items that could dramatically impact salmon runs.

What is the PNW Tribal Energy Program?

The Times article points out that the proposal would fund a “PNW Tribal Energy Program.” “Under this proposal, federal assistance would be provided to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes to develop and deploy ‘clean, renewable socially-just energy resources’ in the region. These would be planned as replacement power for the Lower Snake River dams, if Congress authorizes breaching.”

It’s very concerning that this proposal appears to essentially transfer control over the region’s power generation and irrigation systems to the four tribes and two states and away from the power companies that are currently responsible for delivering reliable power at reasonable rates.

In addition, the proposed plan “…would also shift decision-making for $100 million in fish and wildlife restoration program spending to the six sovereigns, and remove the authority for restoration programs from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.”

Follow the money

We can follow the money to see the motivation driving the negotiations. This is an effort to consolidate authority, money and control into the hands of a few, rather than have the funding and control be distributed across the region. In their letter to the Biden Administration, the Representatives ask why the proposal would apply to only four of the more than 40 federally recognized Tribes in the Pacific Northwest. They also question the science used to justify dam breaching as well as the vague and imprecise language used in the document.

It’s right and proper for our representatives to drag these secret negotiations out of the shadows. All of the region’s stakeholders must be involved in such an important negotiation which will impact eastern Washington’s future prosperity for generations to come.

Removing the four LSR dams is a counterproductive solution that could destroy Washington’s economy and prosperity. The destruction of these assets is unlikely to achieve the goal of saving the salmon and will surely have unintended consequences.

Remember, abundant energy lifts societies out of poverty and into prosperity. It is clear that destroying the Lower Snake River dams will reduce the availability of reliable energy, destroy the region’s agriculture and tourism, and create poverty. Destruction is often the result of top-down bureaucratic planning. By bringing all stakeholders to the table, we can work to increase salmon runs without creating poverty and privation.

Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.


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