top of page

Snake River dams debate set to flow at local Congressional Field Hearing

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

I was recently talking with a newspaper editor in Washington State about the Snake River dams. Due to a loud vocal minority, the impression was that the state of Idaho is united in wanting to tear down these economically important sources of clean, renewable energy. Based on the statements from numerous Idaho elected officials and industry stakeholders, however, that isn’t the case. This point may come into clearer focus next week when a Congressional Field Hearing on the Snake River dams is held in Richland, WA.

Consider some of the recent comments from Idaho elected officials and trade groups on the vital importance of the Snake River dams.

The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation said in a statement:

“The lower four dams on the Snake River produce a significant amount of cheap and environmentally friendly hydroelectric power to the region and are a critical part of a system on the Columbia and Snake rivers that allows wheat farmers, as well as producers of many other commodities, to export their product to the world.”

In 2021, the Idaho Legislature passed Senate Joint Memorial 103 in support of the Snake River dams. From a summary of the resolution:

“A Joint Memorial stating findings of the Legislature, opposing the removal or breaching of the dams on the Columbia-Snake River System and its tributaries, and recognizing certain benefits provided by the Port of Lewiston. The Idaho Legislature recognizes and supports the international competitiveness, multi-modal transportation, and economic development benefits provided by the Port of Lewiston and the Columbia-Snake River System. Idaho has sovereignty of its water resources and benefits from the multiuse system that provides transportation of commodities, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, hydropower, flood control, and irrigation.”

Idaho Governor Brad Little said in a July 2022 press release:

“I have been clear in my opposition to dam breaching because it is not a silver bullet for salmon recovery. Idaho has shown leadership and commitment to bringing together diverse interests to ensure abundant, sustainable populations of salmon and steelhead for present and future generations.”

Also, this is from a March 2023 press release announcing the introduction of the Northwest Energy Security Act to protect the four lower Snake River dams:

“’A comprehensive, scientific process made clear dam breaching on the lower Snake River is completely unnecessary and unwarranted,’ said U.S. Senators Jim Risch (Idaho). ‘With the Northwest Energy Security Act, Congress will ensure the Columbia River Power System continues to provide reliable and clean energy and supports the region’s transportation, agriculture, and irrigation needs. I remain adamantly opposed to breaching the dams.’”

The Northwest Energy Security Act is sponsored by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (Idaho) and Steve Daines (Mont.) with U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse (Wash.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.).

Snake River dams

On June 22, the Congressional Western Caucus held a forum titled, The Importance of Hydropower for Rural Communities.” U.S. Representative Russ Fulcher (Idaho) said at the forum:

“The lower Snake River dams are a critical linchpin to North Idaho and for the Pacific Northwest. And the removal of those or breaching those would be economic devastation.”

Scott Simms, CEO of Public Power Council, added at the forum:

“The Lower Snake River Dams regularly are the defining line between keeping the power flowing and parts of the West being plunged into rolling blackouts.”

This is a point reiterated by Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, in his June 22 Seattle Times op-ed:

“The NERC warning doesn’t matter much to those who want to tear out the four Lower Snake River Dams, some of the Pacific Northwest’s most reliable, carbon-free generators of electricity. They mistakenly conflate all renewables as being equal in the reliability they provide to the grid, but those responsible for the grid’s reliability know that is simply not the case. Wind and solar power, even when paired with batteries, cannot get you through a heat wave or cold snap. Hydropower can, has, and will continue to do so.
The Lower Snake River Dams kept the grid powered during the Northwest’s deadly heat domes of 2021 and 2022 and cold snap of December 2022.
We in the West should be concerned.
Blackouts are life-or-death situations. Our grid must keep electricity flowing during extreme heat even as wind turbines stop turning and solar panels go dark at night.”

A Congressional Field Hearing will be held in Richland, WA on June 26 to discuss the future of the Snake River dams.

As reported by the Tri-City Herald:

“With partisan politics now driving the narrative in the Snake River dams debate, Monday’s Congressional field hearing in the Tri-Cities is more critical than ever.
Only Congress has the authority to breach the dams, so it is imperative that U.S. lawmakers get a chance to see the dams for themselves and talk with the people who manage them directly.
Eastern Washington Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers will lead members of the House Committee on Natural Resources on a tour of Ice Harbor Dam before the public hearing, which begins at 1 p.m. at Richland High School.”

A live stream of the June 26 Congressional Field Hearing will be available here.

Removing the Snake River dams would literally require an act of Congress. Such approval is highly unlikely. Instead, a majority of regional congressional officials are correctly working to protect the economic and environmental benefits provided by the Snake River dams.

1 comment
bottom of page