Simpson’s Columbia Basin Initiative contains central tenets of Democratic Party, yet Democratic leadership remains silent

Published 8/25/2021  |  Idaho Rivers United

Environmental restoration, social justice, clean-energy measures, and endangered species recovery: these sound like pillars of the Democratic platform, yet an Idaho Republican is championing these efforts in the Pacific Northwest. Congressman Mike Simpson put forth a far-reaching proposal in the spring of this year that included removing the four Lower Snake River Dams. His proposal, dubbed the Columbia Basin Initiative, would include the largest river restoration in history and save Snake River salmon and steelhead that teeter all too close to extinction; but fish recovery was just one key piece of the larger Pacific Northwest advancement package.

Congressman Simpson included measures in this proposal to triple the energy produced by these dams with clean energy measures, such as solar, wind, and battery storage. His proposal sought to uphold tribal treaty rights, long-neglected, and has earned the public backing of almost every Tribe in the region. It would also invest heavily in much-needed infrastructure and educational opportunities for the region’s Universities.

A Republican advancing a bill with measures such as these surely would garner bipartisan support. However, only one Democratic member of Congress has backed this measure publicly – Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR). Kate Brown (D), Governor of Oregon, has been his most ardent and vocal supporter. Despite being central tenets of the Democratic Party, only one member of the Democratic Party in either house of Congress has embraced this proposal

There has never been a more opportune, or urgent, time to recover salmon and remove the Lower Snake River dams. An exceptionally hot summer has, metaphorically and literally, shown a light on how deadly these dams can be for fish as they exacerbate hot water pollution. Steelhead returns back to Idaho this year are the lowest ever recorded. A recent study from the Nez Perce Tribe shows that nearly 50% of tributary populations in the Snake and Salmon Rivers of Chinook salmon are already at the threshold of being functionally extinct.

We need to act now. However, we hear the same redundant calls for regional dialogue and further study. The science provides empirical evidence, replicated for decades, that the Lower Snake River Dams are the biggest impediment to salmon recovery. While we still have deniers, much like we still have flat-earthers, this issue needs no further study. As for a regional dialogue, Congressman Simpson’s office conducted over 500 meetings with stakeholders over the course of three years from every divergent interest in the issue to formulate this proposal.

We stand on the precipice of either relegating Idaho’s salmon runs, once the greatest in the entire world, to the history books. Or we can begin the largest river restoration program in history and recover these iconic species to their former glory. There has never been a more urgent, nor a more opportune, time for action. While I hear loud and clear the asinine rhetoric from the Republican offices of Newhouse and McMorris-Rodgers, it is the silence from the leadership in the Democratic party that is deafening.

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