Rep. Newhouse opposes Lower Snake River Dams proposal

PACIFIC NORTHWEST — Since Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released the final draft report regarding proposals to breach the Snake River Dams, numerous organizations and groups from across the Pacific Northwest have responded. In the report, Inslee and Murray argue that benefits provided by the dam should be replaced before the dams are breached. Their plan is meant to keep the salmon and orca species’ in mind. 

The report was well-received by the Sierra Club, a nonprofit organization focused on environment and climate conservation, the NW Energy Coalition, a nonprofit focused on clean energy, Earthjustice, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition, Idaho Rivers United, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Idaho Conservation League

“The Snake River is the single best opportunity to restore salmon abundance on the West Coast, help our orca, and begin to address long neglected treaty rights responsibilities to the tribes…” said Sierra Club Chair Bill Arthur. “We call on the Northwest delegation to join with Senator Murray, Governor Inslee, and the Biden Administration to put the investments in place as expeditiously as possible to replace the services and breach the dams to avoid extinction and secure abundant salmon recovery.” 

The Executive Director of NW Energy Coalition, Nancy Hirsh, thanked the legislators for the efforts in their report, commending the urgency that was stressed. 

“While the path forward toward a decarbonized energy system will have its challenges, the region must lean into comprehensive planning and implementation now, so that we can begin to acquire the suite of clean energy resources that will maintain an affordable, clean, and more reliable energy grid,” said Hirsh. 

The Executive Director of Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Liz Hamilton, also expressed gratitude for the legislators and their recognition. 

“Our industry has paid the price for the decimation of Snake River stocks, and we are eager to get to work with other leaders in the region to modernize our power, irrigation and transportation systems,” said Hamilton. “Leadership that brings us together for solutions will bring salmon, steelhead and our industry back from the brink. But we need to start today in order to preserve these iconic fish runs and the communities that depend upon them.” 

Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation called inaction the greatest ally of extinction, supporting the report and highlighting the need to act on the commitments. Many organizations felt similarly, noting the plan is helpful, but action is necessary. 

“Mile-for-mile, the Snake River basin contains the coldest, most undistributed stream habitats in the Lower 48,” said Trout Unlimited Chief Scientist Helen Neville. “The bottom line is that if we are going to make major investments in wild fish recovery, the Snake is the place to put our money. Restoring a free-flowing Snake River is the most significant action we can take for Pacific salmon and steelhead in the contiguous United States.” 

The Defenders of Wildlife Northwest Representative Kathleen Callaghy did not respond to the legislators specifically, instead only highlighting the need to continue this momentum. 

“Defenders urges policymakers to take swift actions to make the infrastructure investments necessary to enable dam removal,” said Callaghy. “With Southern Resident orcas increasingly reliant on Columbia River Basin salmon, restoring these runs to abundance is absolutely critical to preventing their extinction. With only 73 whales left, there is no time to waste.” 

The Salmon and Steelhead Associate for the Idaho Conservation League, Mitch Cutter, said the report outlines necessary steps, but should be followed up with a concrete timeline. 

“We agree that the dams’ most important services can and must be replaced, but time is of the essence,” said Cutter. “If we actually want to restore salmon and steelhead, Murray and Inslee must establish a concrete timeline for completing necessary studies and infrastructure improvements, deauthorizing the dams, and restoring the lower Snake River. Across the Northwest, people are recognizing that the status quo is unsustainable, irresponsible, and unjust. It’s time to act and deliver a future that makes all communities whole, including those who’ve been left behind for far too long.” 

However, the Columbia Riverkeeper opposed the concepts outlined in the report. 

“Governor Inslee and Senator Murray claim that salmon extinction and the status quo are unacceptable,” said Miles Johnson, Senior Attorney for the Columbia Riverkeeper. “But today’s recommendations will have tribes, salmon, orcas, and the communities that rely on them getting their pie in the sky (if they still exist), after we spend decades showering powerful interests with federal money. This sounds suspiciously like the status quo.”