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Words from Washington

We must preserve our dams

It is easy to forget how important the dams are to our everyday lives in the Pacific Northwest. Without these dams, our energy bills would be higher, the Columbia Basin wouldn't have the thousands of acres of green fields and orchards that feed millions of people around the world, and it would be more costly for our wheat farmers to get their products to market.

Unfortunately, extremists - mostly from outside of Central Washington - have been trying for decades to remove these dams under the guise of salmon recovery. Their radical agenda threatens our very way of life.

People in Central Washington know that a healthy salmon population and the benefits of clean, low-cost hydropower are not mutually exclusive. Through comprehensive efforts to address the factors impacting fish populations, including habitat, harvest levels, hatcheries, predators and improving our dams to maximize safe passage for fish, more salmon are returning up the Columbia River to spawn than even before the dams were built.

These salmon return numbers show that we don't have to choose between fish and dams.

However, this scientific data has failed to derail the extremists, who threaten our dams with public relations campaigns or use activist judges to run the Columbia and Snake rivers from the bench.

Other threats to our dams are less obvious, but just as dangerous. In recent years, efforts on the federal and state levels have sought to make hydropower less desirable and more expensive.

This is why I introduced the "Saving Our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act" on Aug. 1 of this year. This bill does what the title says - protect federal dams from extremist attacks and encourage future development of clean, renewable hydropower.

To me, the provisions in this bill are simple and common sense. The bill declares that hydropower is defined under federal law as a renewable energy source, stops taxpayer dollars from being used to remove a hydropower-producing dam without specific Congressional approval, and prevents federal funding to reward organizations that sue the federal government in attempts to force dam removal.

Those of us in Washington state, where 70 percent of our power comes from the dams, understand the many benefits of hydropower. Therefore, my bill also aims to make it easier to develop more of this clean, renewable resource.

On Aug. 15, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing in Pasco, where witnesses from a variety of perspectives testified about our dams and the provisions in this bill. Before the hearing started, I was pleased to participate in a rally organized by the Pasco Chamber of Commerce with more than 100 Central Washingtonians in support of our dams.

Dams are essential to our livelihoods and Central Washington would be a drastically different place, with more hardships and fewer economic opportunities, without them. This is why I will continue to push forward on this legislation, which would help protect against the activist judges, radical environmental groups and federal bureaucrats that threaten these dams and the benefits they provide.

- Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's 4th Congressional District.

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