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Words from Washington

Dam removal not an option

The following is Congressman Doc Hastings' speech at the "Real Ag 2010" convention and trade show in Pasco this past Monday.

"As we enter 2010 and the beginning of a new decade, a strong majority of those living in the Pacific Northwest know that removal of the four Lower Snake River dams is an extreme action that would cause real economic harm while there is little scientific proof that fish recovery would actually result.

"Yet, the dam removal crusade continues on in this new year. It is fueled mostly by extremists living in Portland and Seattle, and sustained by support flowing from the nation's other liberal, urban centers. Make no mistake...this campaign to tear out our dams is extremely well-funded, well-coordinated and has dedicated attorneys and PR experts working every day to achieve their goal of destroying our dams.

"Ironically, these are many of the same people who, in the name of climate change, want to impose a new national energy tax, or cap-and-trade tax, in the United States. Yes, we're supposed to tear down clean, renewable, non-carbon emitting hydropower dams...an action which experts at the Northwest Power Council confirm will result in the use of more polluting and expensive energy sources. Maybe these folks need to make a New Year's resolution to be less contradictory in their extremism in 2010.

"As President, George Bush made it clear that the four Lower Snake River dams were not going to be removed on his watch. By taking dam removal off the table, an unprecedented degree of collaboration occurred between all of the federal agencies, the states and Indian tribes. The result was a plan for managing the Columbia-Snake River system in a manner that provides for fish recovery and protects our region's economy and tens of thousands of jobs. This plan, or BiOp which is short for Biological Opinion, had the support of all the federal agencies, three of the four states and nearly all of the major Indian tribes in the region.

"It was not a BiOp that I agreed with 100%, but it had the virtue of broad consensus, the latest science, full protection of the Snake River dams, and a recognition that considerable improvements and progress had been made to our hydropower system to the benefit of fish survival and recovery.

"Yet, the simple fact that dam removal wasn't a component of the BiOp meant that dam removal extremists would continue their fight against it in federal court.

"Early in 2009, the federal judge in Portland overseeing the case, Judge Redden, invited the newly elected President's Administration to review the 2008 BiOp. The new Administration accepted this invitation and spent several months reviewing and considering the BiOp. In mid-September, the Obama Administration filed papers with Judge Redden that fundamentally supported the 2008 BiOp but added a number of new provisions. Included among the changes proposed by the Obama Administration was to again put Snake River dam removal on the table as an option.

"I was highly critical of this decision to open the door to dam removal. Only after this door was shut by President Bush did the unprecedented level of collaboration occur that resulted in the BiOp that the Obama Administration declared scientifically and legally sound. In putting dam removal back on the table, the Obama Administration emphasized again and again that it was an option of last resort.

"Some who oppose dam removal have begrudgingly supported President Obama's changes to the BiOp and urged Judge Redden to approve them. However, I remain very seriously concerned about what steps Judge Redden or others may initiate now that dam removal has been put back in play.

"The Obama Administration has had their say. But the dam removal extremists who started this lawsuit over a decade ago, and the federal judge who now must rule upon it, have not yet had their last say. Before the extremists are done in the courtroom, Obama's "last resort" position on dam removal could be advanced forward to a more imminent or present day scenario. This is an outcome I fear for the terrible economic toll that it would take on families and communities across our region. Energy prices would spike. Thousands and thousands of jobs would be impacted.

"It's my sincere hope that we do not see this outcome. As I've said, I faulted the Obama Administration for putting dam removal back on the table, even as a last resort. But now, the most important question for the Obama Administration is whether, should an activist judge choose to side with dam removal extremists and advance forward the dam removal option in any way from the current "last resort" framework created by the Administration, will President Obama and his appointees hold the line and refuse to yield from their position? The question is their commitment to dam removal being a true "last resort." The future of our region's economy and thousands of jobs could depend on their keeping their word. If they yield to the dam removal extremists, we all may pay a very terrible price. Again, it's my hope that such a situation never materializes, but as long as this lawsuit sits before a judge with an established record for being both activist and unpredictable, we have real reason to worry and watch.

"However, I don't want to conclude on such a gloomy note, especially as we start a new year. For the record, I want to make very clear that no matter what one or more federal judges rule, they do not have the authority to order dam removal. It is the sole power of Congress to control whether dam removal occurs, and whether money is provided to carry such an action out. In January of last year, my Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives selected me to serve as the top Republican of the Natural Resources Committee. This Committee oversees federal hydropower dams and you can be certain that I will do everything I am able to work to prevent Congress from authorizing, approving or funding such an extreme and job-killing action.

The great majority of Northwest citizens know that we can both protect fish and our low-cost, non-carbon emitting hydropower dams. Real progress has been made in fish recovery and even more will be achieved when dam removal is forever put to rest, the lawsuits end, and the region can get to work and out of a Portland judge's courtroom. Thank you for your time and best wishes on a successful convention."

- Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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