Battle brewing over bill to remove Snake River dams

Four Snake River dams, with a hydroelectric generating capacity of more than 3,000 MW, could be dismantled under legislation designed to protect salmon and steelhead populations.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., calls for an independent and comprehensive study of environmental, economic, and salmon restoration effects of removing the four dams in southeast Washington. Those dams are the 634.6-MW Ice Harbor, 810-MW Little Goose, 810-MW Lower Granite, and 810-MW Lower Monumental projects. (HydroWorld 5/29/09)

The dams and their massive turbines are driving some species of salmon toward extinction, McDermott said.
“The extinction of several species of salmon is not theoretical,” he said. “Within the next 10 years, several species of Snake River salmon are expected to disappear forever unless we act now to restore and protect salmon and steelhead across the Pacific Northwest.”

But Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has vowed to fight the legislation, saying it would kill jobs and eliminate an abundant source of clean, renewable energy. Hastings is the highest ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Dam removal is an extreme action that would have devastating consequences on our region’s economy,” Hastings said. “And there’s no scientific proof that it would actually guarantee salmon recovery.”

Hastings noted that the vast majority of the bill’s 23 co-sponsors serve districts far from the Pacific Northwest. Similar proposals have been rejected before, Hastings said.

“Yet dam removal extremists continue their lawsuits, their fundraising campaigns and their fight to spoil agreement on policies that will actually recover fish in the Northwest,” he said.

Hydropower accounts for 6 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption and nearly 75 percent of all renewable power, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. But just 3 percent of the nation’s more than 82,000 dams generate electricity.

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