Labrador Votes for Bill Protecting Snake River Hydropower, Shipping
The House Committee on Natural Resources on Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill to restore multiple-use management of the Columbia and Snake rivers, bring relief to electricity ratepayers, maintain navigation and prohibit potential court-ordered destruction of four dams crucial to Idaho's economy. Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, voted for the bill, which is expected to get a vote on the House floor soon.
H.R. 3144, cosponsored by Labrador, would set aside a 2017 ruling by Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ordering spillage over Columbia and Snake River dams. Spillage began last week and is estimated to cost Northwest ratepayers $40 million in 2018 alone as water bypasses hydropower turbines.
"U.S. taxpayers built and maintain a working river system that is key to the Northwest's diversified economy," Labrador said. "Congress must exercise its responsibility to set policy, not defer to unelected liberal judges citing dubious science. Thousands of Idaho jobs and our very way of life are at stake, and I will continue to fight for common-sense river management."
H.R. 3144 was 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.
Last year, the Trump Administration's Bureau of Reclamation expressed support for the goals of the legislation. Earlier this month at a House Appropriations Committee hearing, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry pledged to work to prevent additional spill and protect the hydropower dams.
But last week, the liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal of Simon's order to spill from April until June. Ignoring the consensus of agency science, Simon ordered wasting the water based on science submitted by environmentalist plaintiffs.
The states of Idaho, Washington and Montana and Idaho's Kootenai Tribe were among those opposing the court-ordered spillage, along with consumer-owned utilities and transportation and agricultural groups.
"I am pleased House leadership heeded the call to move quickly to advance H.R. 3144 in light of judicial overreach and I look forward to voting for the bill on the floor very soon," Labrador said.
H.R. 3144 would set aside Simon's ruling and return the river system to 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 critical 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.
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.
Removing the hydroelectric capacity on the four lower Snake River dams 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.