Congressional Representatives and Key Stakeholders Discuss Congressman Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative at Andrus Center for Public Policy Environmental Conference

Published 5/14/2021  |  Idaho Rivers United

Press Release: Congressional Representatives and Key Stakeholders Discuss Congressman Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative at Andrus Center for Public Policy Environmental Conference

Boise, ID – Echoing their 2019 environmental conference, the Andrus Center for Public Policy hosted the Energy, Salmon, Agriculture, and Communities: Revisited conference on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The conference revolved around Congressman Simpson’s proposed plan for regional infrastructure investment in preparation for breaching the Lower Snake River Dams to recover Idaho’s endangered salmon. Keynote speakers included Shannon Wheeler, Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee, Congressman Mike Simpson (ID-R), and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-D).

Congressman Simpson and Congressman Blumenauer discussed the Columbia Basin Initiative, the comprehensive plan for the Columbia and Lower Snake River that would invest $33.5 billion in regional grain transportation, energy stabilization, renewable energy resources, and port communities before breaching the dams in 2030. The plan would modernize the power grid with sustainable, renewable energy resources, provide long-term security for grain growers, and honor tribal agreements and treaty rights.

Congressman Simpson emphasized that the plan would end years of litigation surrounding the Lower Snake River Dam’s negative impacts on salmon populations and largely resolve Bonneville Power Association’s current financial crisis. Rep. Simpson discussed the history of court decisions in favor of Idaho’s endangered salmon, emphasizing that it is only a matter of time before a court decision will require dam breaching for Snake River salmon recovery. By investing in agriculture, crop transport, energy, and communities in preparation for dam breaching, the region can take the reins on its future and ensure the region experiences even greater prosperity. Additionally, a proposed 25-year moratorium on litigation directly related to salmon in the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers is currently incorporated into the plan.

Currently, the Columbia Basin Initiative is in the proposal stage and has not been drafted into legislation. Funds for the implementation of the plan may be acquired through the Biden Administrations’ forthcoming infrastructure bill. The plan is under continuous revision as it would rely heavily on the direction and needs of stakeholders.

Despite three decades of recovery efforts totaling over $17 billion, Snake River salmon continue to teeter on the brink of extinction. Salmon that migrate to and from rivers with fewer dams, such as the Yakima and John Day, are maintaining stable, harvestable populations. Located in the state of Washington, the federally managed dams would require an act of Congress to be decommissioned and breached.

Among those in opposition to the plan that spoke at the conference was Congressman Dan Newhouse(WA-R), who repeatedly claimed that science did not demonstrate that salmon recovery requires breaching of the four Lower Snake River Dams. This argument is contradictory to over three decades of fish studies and the overwhelming consensus from fish biologists studying Columbia Basin Salmon. In the most recent Federal Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Lower Snake River Dams, the only proposed plan that would result in salmon populations successfully avoiding extinction was alternative 3, a scenario that required breaching of the lower Snake River dams.

Idaho Rivers United supports Congressman Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative for salmon recovery and investment in the region, deeply appreciates Congressman Blumenauer’s support and involvement in the plan’s development, and urges the rest of the Northwest delegation to work together on this proposal, before our salmon and steelhead are relegated to Idaho’s history.