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Settlement endangers dams ... according to congressman

A recent settlement by the Obama administration with Hood River, Ore. based Columbia Riverkeeper will require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better monitor eight hydroelectric dams it operates on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

According to Columbia Riverkeeper, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has received dozens of spill response notices that the dams spilled oil, some of which contain cancer-causing PCBs into the rivers.

The group filed three complaints in federal court on July 31, 2013, regarding discharge of pollutants from eight dams in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Under the settlement reached earlier this month, the Army Corps of Engineers will within one year apply to the EPA for pollution permits to address the discharges from powerhouse drainage sumps, unwatering sumps, spillway sumps, navigation lock sumps, wicket gate bearings, turbine blade packing/seals, and discharges from cooling water systems at each dam.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) is concerned that the Obama administration’s settlement will have negative impacts on the future of dams and utilities in the Northwest.

He contends the settlement, which involves payment of more than $140,000 in taxpayer-funded attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff, would vastly expand the regulatory authority of the EPA over Army Corps’ dam operations nationwide.

These dams, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, says Hastings, are the major source of clean, renewable electricity, irrigation, flood control and navigation.

“Incredibly, I understand that no one other than U.S. Department of Justice or Army Corps lawyers were made aware of the terms of this sweeping settlement before it was finalized, and signed by a judge,” asserts Hastings, a Washington state Fourth District Congressman who represents an area that includes the Yakima Valley.

“Like an increasing number of the Obama administration’s ‘sue and settle’ agreements over the past few years, this settlement was negotiated behind closed-doors by the Justice Department with a litigious group without consultation or input from those most directly impacted,” said Hastings.

In response, he is requesting an immediate and thorough explanation of the Army Corps’ rationale and details of its actions relative to this settlement.

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