Gov. Little, lawmakers react to Simpson’s dam breaching proposal

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Since Congressman Mike Simpson unveiled his dam breaching proposal in early February, a handful of Idaho lawmakers have sent their reactions in newsletters to constituents. All of the reactions Idaho Reports has seen so far have been negative. On Thursday, Gov. Brad Little weighed in as well, saying that while he isn’t convinced dam removal is the best answer, he respects Simpson’s efforts.

Here’s a round-up of those reactions.

Gov. Brad Little:
“My position on the lower Snake River Dams has not changed. I remain unconvinced that breaching the dams is a silver bullet for salmon recovery. Breaching the dams would have devastating impacts on Idahoans and vital segments of Idaho’s economy.

“We must continue to find creative, consensus-based solutions that help salmon thrive and foster a strong Idaho economy. Last year, I signed an agreement with the Governors of Washington, Oregon, and Montana, stating Idaho’s commitment to working collaboratively on a regional level to advance our shared goal of successful salmon recovery and economic prosperity. I am also proud of the work of my Salmon Workgroup – a diverse group of stakeholders that worked for 20 months to come up with dozens of pragmatic recommendations that promote healthy salmon populations and thriving river communities in Idaho. It was the first time that broad interests worked collaboratively to help shape Idaho’s policy on salmon and steelhead. While a lot remains to be done, I am confident we are moving in the right direction.

“I have immense respect for Congressman Simpson and all the work he has done on behalf of the people of Idaho. We may not see eye to eye on this issue, but I am committed to continuing to work with local and regional stakeholders and the entire Idaho congressional delegation to improve salmon returns and ensure Idaho industries not only remain whole but are better positioned for the future.”

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale:
“The US Congressman for Idaho’s Second District has decided he doesn’t like hydroelectric energy, flood control, irrigation, agriculture, transportation from Idaho’s only Port, economic stability, and recreation provided by the four Lower Snake River dams which effect Idaho’s First District, Eastern Idaho and Eastern Washington Congressional Districts. He has introduced a bill called $33 Billion “solution” in Congress to hand out taxpayer money like candy in order to buy “support” for his dam breaching pipe dream. The issue of removal of these four dams has been studied numerous times by the US Corp of Engineers. The dam breaching proposal has been repeatedly turned down based on the environmental damage to railroads, highways, and other infrastructure plus the tremendous economic harm. There has been no scientific proof that dam removal will return ocean dwelling fish to Idaho which even the Congressional sponsor admits.”

Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome:
“Congressmen Simpson introduced a plan this week that would remove four of the lower Snake River dams. This is simply not acceptable. The current astronomical litigation to protect our salmon is real, but we cannot put a price tag on Idaho’s energy independence and the future of our agricultural communities? Hydroelectricity is the cheapest form of energy generation, and that is why we have one of the lowest power costs in the nation. Water is the most renewable form of electricity. I offered to join with leadership on a resolution to oppose such actions.”

Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, Chairman, House Resources and Conservation:
“The biggest news this week in Boise occurred on Friday. U. S. Rep. Mike Simpson surprised us all with his announcement of his support to breach the four upper dams on the Snake River in an effort to save the historical salmon runs. Breaching the dams has been a hot topic for years but it has never had support from Republicans. If the dams are breached, the hope is that salmon will return to historical levels and millions will return to Idaho. I’m not sure what Congressmen Simpson is thinking. The current science suggests that the biggest issue is in the ocean and not in the river system. Breaching the dams adds to the cost of electricity, increases the cost of moving wheat and timber from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean, and adds to traffic congestion from Northern Idaho south to the Boise area and west to the Pacific coast. Simpson’s plan calls for $36 billion to offset the cost of breaching the dams.

“Dam breaching has been on the radar for years. I served on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in 1999. There were fish biologists who suggested breaching dams back then and their careers were ruined for even publicly suggesting such a thing. My concern is if the dams are breached and the salmon don’t return, then what? It will be much easier to take out dams than it will be to rebuild them if the experiment doesn’t work. I don’t know if we could ever get enough public support to rebuild the dams in the river. President Biden has made a huge commitment to green energy. Hydro power is the greenest of the green energy and it continues to be produced when there is no wind or when the sun doesn’t shine to make solar power. Water is always going to run down hill!!

“I have heard a lot of speculation on what Rep. Simpson’s announcement means. I have no inside knowledge, but I will share a couple of thoughts that I have heard here in the halls of the Capitol. Frist, does this mean that that Rep. Simpson has no plans to run in the next election? Second, Rep. Simpson believes that President Biden will order the dams breached and Idaho will get nothing in return so the Congressman is trying to get the most he can for Idaho. I’m sure that we will hear more in the future, but in the short term, it has given us plenty to talk about besides limiting the Governor’s power or doing away with crowd restrictions issued by the Department of Health and Welfare.”

Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, Chairman, House Agricultural Affairs:
“There is beginning to be quite a stir in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest with several meetings, presentations and conversations starting to emerge concerning a Congressman Simpson plan to establish a $32 billion fund for salmon recovery. An official plan has yet to be released but will undoubtedly have ramifications on many different sectors of industry, landowners, and millions of power company ratepayers. It is sounding like this would be a major restructuring of the Pacific Northwest and one of the most problematic priorities would include the breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams. As was stated earlier in this newsletter, Idaho exports 50% of our wheat and much of this uses the river system of barges to get the wheat to the port.

“There is a great deal of time and effort that has been and is currently being done for salmon recovery. With more committed funding, for on the ground efforts in water quality as well as trying to scientifically understand the ocean’s cyclical and unpredictable role for fish migration, there is still much work to be done. Unfortunately, a key portion of the proposal is removing dams which would not allow commodities and products from being transported down the river. It would also increase the costs of important inputs that make the trip back to the inland northwest from the West Coast.

“There are a multitude of scientific studies, logistical impediments, environmental damages, and common-sense reasons why removing the Snake River dams is not a benefit to the Pacific Northwest. The removal of those dams could alone be an environmental disaster due to the damage sediment could have down river on natural habitats. Stay tuned for more updates and information.”

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