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Labrador Blasts Court-ordered Waste of Hydropower, Interference in River Management


Date: April 3, 2018
Location: Meridian, ID
Issues: Environment

Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, sharply criticized a federal court decision that is forcing the waste of $40 million in hydropower based on dubious scientific grounds in the name of helping salmon.

On Monday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal of a 2017 ruling by Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ordering spillage over Columbia and Snake River dams from now until June. The cost of additional bypassing of hydropower turbines is estimated at $40 million for electricity ratepayers this year alone.

"Hydropower is the lifeblood of the Idaho and the Northwest, providing reliable, clean, renewable and affordable energy that drives our economy," Labrador said. "For a liberal judge to ignore the broad scientific consensus of the federal government and the states of Idaho, Washington and Montana is unconscionable and must be stopped."

Labrador is a cosponsor of House Bill 3144, introduced last year after Simon's ruling to overturn the consensus of the four relevant federal agencies. The Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all agree that the court-ordered spillage is unnecessary to help young salmon reach the ocean. An average of 97 percent of young salmon successfully make it past the dams.

H.R. 3144 is expected to get a House vote in the coming weeks. It would set aside Simon's ruling and let the river system operate under the current federal biological opinion until 2022, when a new opinion is due. The bill also prohibits the breaching or removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River without action by Congress. Those dams allow water transport vital to Idaho, carrying wheat and other products to Pacific Ocean ports.

In 2011, former U.S. District Judge James Redden raised the prospect of court-ordered dam removal, an action Labrador said must be taken off the table.

"Congress must fight this attack on Idaho's economy and protect the multiple-use river system that American taxpayers built over 80 years," Labrador said. "I will not stand idle when unelected judges ignore scientific consensus and threaten our way of life."

Under the last three presidential administrations, federal scientists have said dams and salmon can coexist without spillage. After spending more than $15 billion over 40 years on fish recovery, salmon are returning at record levels. But Judge Simon ordered the wasting the water based on science submitted by environmentalist plaintiffs.

The federal government was joined by the states of Idaho, Washington and Montana, Idaho's Kootenai Tribe, consumer-owned electric utilities, and agricultural and transportation groups in opposing Simon's order.

Removing the hydroelectric capacity on the four lower Snake River dams -- Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite -- would take over 3,000 megawatts off the grid. BPA estimates replacement costs at up to $372 million annually. It would take two nuclear, three coal-fired or six gas-fired power plants to replace the average annual power produced at the four dams, enough energy to power 1.8 million homes.