Inslee-Murray Lower Snake Dam Report: Reaction Ranges From ‘Presumptive Path to Breaching’ to Dam Removal Not Going to Happen

August 31, 2022
Inslee-Murray Lower Snake Dam Report: Reaction Ranges From ‘Presumptive Path to Breaching’ to Dam Removal Not Going to Happen

Did last week’s release of the final “Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report” by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray move the needle in seeking regional consensus on a comprehensive plan to improve the condition of Columbia/Snake River salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act? If public reaction is any indication, the answer is no. Salmon advocates called the report a presumptive path to dam replacement. But power and river user interests, and members of Congress representing eastern Washington, where the dams are located, said the report made clear that breaching the lower Snake River dams was not going to happen.“ It’s clear that breach is not an option right now,” said Murray.

“While many mitigation measures exist, many require further analysis or are not possible to implement in the near-term.  Importantly, the Pacific Northwest cannot delay its decarbonization goals as we confront the climate crisis. Key infrastructure and energy investments must be in place before we can seriously consider breach.”Furthermore, said Murray, “it should not be lost on anyone that breach would ultimately require Congressional authorization and strong bipartisan support—for that to become a credible option, the benefits of the dams must be sustained or mitigated.”

Murray’s and Inslee’s statements included no timelines. Organizations in support of dam breaching said they would hold state and national leadership accountable to their commitment to “expeditious movement,” and said dams must be breached by 2030. The National Wildlife Federation said the final report outlines “an actionable plan for removing the lower Snake River dams and replacing their services, underscoring the urgent need to save Northwest salmon from extinction.”

“Inaction is the greatest ally of extinction and today’s report from Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee provides a critical roadmap of the actions necessary to save imperiled salmon populations,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the NWF. “The Murray-Inslee report, combined with the recent words and reports from the Biden administration, and the ongoing leadership of Rep. Simpson, Rep. Blumenauer, and Gov. Brown, together demonstrate a shared commitment to a comprehensive and inclusive approach to salmon recovery that leaves no one behind.

Now it’s essential that we transform these commitments into action, including breaching the Lower Snake River dams, to ensure we restore abundant salmon populations, fulfill treaty obligations to Columbia River Tribes, and revitalize the Northwest’s economy for future generations.” No surprise the Public Power Council had a different take. “PPC is grateful that the Senator and Governor heard our very clear concerns about the impacts that could come from Snake River Dam removal, and their acknowledgement that Congress has the ultimate authority over those federal sources of clean, renewable power,” said Scott Simms, Executive Director of PPC. “We will continue to engage with Tribes and others to advance feasible solutions that build on our significant progress in fish mitigation. However, it’s unfortunate that the final report keeps dam breaching on the table for possible future action.”The PPC said “regrettably, the campaign to remove the LSRDs is not over.

Recently, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a draft proposal calling for removal of the LSRDs. The recommendation is based on a shoddy, unattributed report by the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – written in conjunction with two plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit – that seeks dam removal. The report is shockingly out of character for typical NOAA reports that extensively cite qualified research, data and analysis.“The NOAA report fails to consider real-time salmon returns that this year for many salmon species are the highest since before the dams were constructed,” Simms said. “NOAA also uses outdated, if not biased, assumptions on fish return rates that are a magnitude higher than returns in neighboring, undammed rivers.

It is time for CEQ and other single interest critics to follow Senator Murray’s lead and recognize the infeasibility and severe consequences of LSRD dam removal and focus instead on collaborative, proven, and equitable mitigation efforts that truly involve the region.” The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation said Murray and Inslee’s final report recognized “the critical condition of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and the feasibility of breaching the Lower Snake River Dams and replacing their current benefits in order to improve salmon and steelhead survival.” “Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee have seen that the salmon, steelhead, and other anadromous fish of the Columbia Basin are in serious trouble.

We appreciate their recognition that the status quo is not a responsible option if we want to avoid species extinction and continued decline,” said Chairman Delano Saluskin of the Yakama Tribal Council. “Yakama Nation agrees with the report’s conclusions that a comprehensive and aggressive basin-wide approach to salmon recovery is critical, and that Lower Snake River dam removal is a feasible option to aid the recovery of Snake River populations, which would in turn help remove restrictions on main-stem Columbia River fisheries.”

The Yakama Nation said in a statement that it “understands that affordable, reliable, and environmentally responsible power and transportation options are critical to all communities in the Pacific Northwest – both tribal and non-tribal. But Yakama Nation also supports breaching the Lower Snake River dams, because we understand that the Pacific Northwest will not see a fully restored Columbia Basin fishery while those dams are in place.”“Healthy, harvestable Columbia Basin salmon runs benefit the cultural, natural, and economic vitality of all communities in the Pacific Northwest – rural and urban, Democrat and Republican, tribal and non-tribal,” said Yakama Fish & Wildlife Committee Chairman Jeremy Takala.

“We cannot allow salmon recovery to become a dysfunctional, partisan political issue if we want our children and our grandchildren to have fish. In the Yakima River Basin, with the leadership of Senators Cantwell and Murray, Congressman Newhouse, and the State Department of Ecology as supported by Governor Inslee, we have been able to bring together tribal, agricultural, and other community stakeholders to develop an integrated and bi-partisan plan to address both salmon recovery and other community goals. We did so among parties who at one point had strong disagreements.

This is what we must do now across the Columbia River Basin.”Recommendations issued by Murray and Inslee “include commitments that support key issues championed by Yakama Nation as critical elements of a comprehensive Columbia Basin salmon solution”:–Completing roughly one billion dollars in backlogged projects already identified as necessary or regionally recommended;–Transitioning the Bonneville Power Administration out of the fish and wildlife mitigation business and instead putting expert tribal and state fisheries co-managers in charge of restoration work;–Providing significant increased resources for mitigation actions necessary to ensure fish population health in the face of increased environmental pressures;–Ensuring that new energy and transportation infrastructure projects are developed in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty, protects tribal treaty rights, and affords economic opportunities to tribal communities; and–Putting dam removal on the table as soon as practicable.“

Yakama Nation looks forward to working closely with Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee as they implement their commitments and develop proposals to support immediate and significant actions to save our salmon,” Saluskin stated. “Words are good, but action is what is necessary.  We will be watching closely to see if these commitments are honored and fulfilled in a timely manner.” “As Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee have recognized, the construction of the federal hydro system in the Columbia Basin resulted in disproportionate harm to tribal communities, while failing to provide us with equal benefits,” said Takala. “Replacement energy and transportation projects implemented to facilitate dam breaching must have tribal agreement and should not be done at the expense of tribal rights like the hydro system was.  Instead, tribes must have a leadership role at the table so we can avoid repeating past mistakes and instead use these opportunities to benefit impacted tribal communities.”

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association said in a statement the Inslee and Murray recommendations accompanying the release of the report “recognize that more information must be known before dam breaching can truly be considered as a viable option moving forward. The recommendations also note that the services provided by the dams must be replaced or mitigated prior to any decommissioning or breaching, and that near-term actions across the basin are needed to help ensure salmon survival.” The PNWA is a non-profit, non-partisan trade association of ports, businesses, public agencies and individuals who support navigation, energy, trade and economic development throughout the region. “PNWA is pleased to see that Senator Murray and Governor Inslee recognize the importance of the Lower Snake River dams to our economy and our environment,” said PNWA Executive Director Heather Stebbings.

“We share their concern about the future of the salmon and agree that there are many efforts in the region that can take place outside of breaching that would have significant positive benefits for the fish. We stand ready to help where we can, and to advocate for future funding to ensure that programs like habitat and ecosystem restoration, toxics reduction, predator abatement and more can be established, and that our federal agencies can better understand ecosystem impacts on the full lifecycle of our iconic fish. ”PNWA and its members, including Northwest farmers and shippers, “appreciate that the importance of agriculture to our Northwest communities was recognized by Senator Murray and Governor Inslee in their recommendation,” said the group’s statement.

“The Columbia and Snake rivers are the third-largest grain export corridor in the world, the single largest corridor for U.S. wheat exports, and a critical irrigation system for nearly 300,000 acres of Washington state farmland,” said PNWA President and Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires. “We appreciate Senator Murray and Governor Inslee’s recognition of the importance of our farmers, the food they produce, and the barge transportation and irrigation that many of them rely on, to our region and nation. Now is not the time to make such great changes which would hurt U.S. farmers and significantly impact U.S. competitiveness in the global market, costing us trade, jobs, and economic stability here in the Northwest.”

“The recommendations by Senator Murray and Governor Inslee are a recognition that agriculture plays an important role in our regional economy, and that a decision as consequential as dam breaching requires a thoughtful, balanced approach,” said Leslie Druffel, PNWA Inland Ports and Navigation Group Co-Chair and Outreach Director for The McGregor Company. “Farmers, and the industries that support them, believe that salmon and dams can and do co-exist and that we can have healthy rivers and a healthy economy. We are looking forward to contributing to the conversation and to supporting a basin-wide approach to salmon recovery going forward.” PNWA said it “supports using the dams as a backbone of the region’s clean energy efforts, including continuing to utilize barging on the river system, which is the most efficient, least carbon-intensive way to move cargo.”

“We should be using the dams as the foundation of our clean energy efforts and barging as the way to move Northwest goods to and from market in the most fuel efficient, reliable, and safest way possible,” said Stebbings. “The alternative is to have increased emissions, congestion on our roads, and more damage to the environment, which would impact our region’s efforts to recover salmon runs and to protect the environment as a whole.”PNWA said in 2020, 4.2 million tons of cargo moved on the Snake River by barge. “It would take 42,160 rail cars or 162,153 semi-trucks to carry that same amount of cargo. This means an increase in 5 million gallons of diesel consumption each year, bringing with it 1.2 million tons of CO2 and other harmful emissions. ”PNWA says it “remains committed to a basin-wide solution to salmon recovery that balances the energy, transportation, and agricultural benefits of the system while addressing the many threats to salmon.

These include pollution, habitat degradation, predation, and importantly, ocean conditions, which the scientific community generally agrees is one of the largest drivers of salmonid mortality.”U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA, central Washington) released a statement pushing back on Inslee and Murray’s final report. "Governor Inslee and Senator Murray are trying to have their cake and eat it too with their recommendation released this afternoon calling for a plan to replace the benefits of the Lower Snake River Dams to enable breaching to move forward. This report outlines what Central Washington has known all along: there is no reasonable replacement for the Lower Snake River Dams,” Newhouse said.

“The fact of the matter is, even if they were able to replace the 66% of the state’s energy which is currently provided by the clean, renewable, and affordable hydroelectric dams, the loss of the dams would still devastate our communities: prices would rise, crops would perish, jobs would be eliminated, and the environment would be threatened. Not to mention, we have the science to prove these dams are not threatening our salmon population—a population that is already seeing record levels of recovery with the dams in place.“Taxpayers should no longer be responsible for paying for duplicative, unnecessary reports like the one issued by Senator Murray and Governor Inslee.

Instead, we should be focusing time and money towards more support for salmon recovery and habitat restoration efforts. The only silver lining here is that it still requires an act of Congress to remove these dams, and as the duly elected member serving Washington’s 4th Congressional District and representing the communities who would be most impacted by such an action, I will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening.”Eastern Washington U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said, “The report and recommendations released today by Governor Inslee and Senator Murray are a welcome step back towards reality, but the fight is far from over. For months, they led a sham process paid for by Washington taxpayers and pandered to radical environmental groups who ignored the facts in pursuit of what is still their end goal–breaching the Lower Snake River dams.“As stated in today’s recommendation, only Congress has the authority to breach the Lower Snake River dams.

That simply is not going to happen, so I’m glad Governor Inslee is indicating he is committed to cleaning up Puget Sound, which is currently a pit of poison for the salmon stocks most critical to the orca. Talk is cheap, though, so I look forward to seeing him take action to get Puget Sound water quality in order.“I appreciate all of the stakeholders who came forward to make sure the vast, irreplaceable benefits of the Lower Snake River dams were fully known. They truly support our entire way of life in Eastern Washington, and that’s something I will always fight to protect. ”In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement that action is “needed now to pave the way towards breaching the four Lower Snake River dams while investing federal dollars to replace their power generation and economic benefits. ”Brown commended Inslee and Murray for commissioning the report, “a step needed to restore imperiled salmon and steelhead stocks to healthy and harvestable levels.

”The governor’s press release said the report “confirms what Governor Brown and the State of Oregon have long maintained: the science is clear that urgent action is necessary to avoid the extinction of salmon and steelhead stocks. A comprehensive solution for the region will provide the highest and only reasonable certainty of avoiding the extinction of several iconic salmon and steelhead stocks that are ecologically, economically, and culturally critical, while also meeting the needs of everyone in the region. It is also clear that collaboration towards a comprehensive solution will provide a more enduring fix than pursuing litigation alone.

For years, Governor Brown has supported a collaborative solution for the region that restores abundant salmon and steelhead stocks alongside a robust, growing regional economy that supports affordable, renewable power; agriculture; and affordable transportation of goods––while also respecting Tribal culture, history, and treaty rights.” “I’d like to thank Governor Inslee and Senator Murray for examining the science and data surrounding this issue, and for coming to the conclusion that the status quo is unacceptable and immediate action is needed,” Brown said. “Oregon, Washington, and a bipartisan group of leaders from across the Northwest all agree: Salmon and steelhead are central to the Columbia Basin’s ecosystem, economy, and way of life, and we must find a collaborative path forward to prevent their extinction while serving the interests of everyone in the region.“

To have the highest certainty of success in these efforts, this report also recognizes the scientific necessity of breaching the Lower Snake River dams as part of a comprehensive set of actions, including making the significant federal investments necessary to replace their power generation and economic contributions. In Oregon, we know that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. We appreciate the continued commitment from the Biden-Harris administration to develop a science-based, collaborative, cooperative, and enduring solution for the Columbia Basin.” Several conservation groups across the Northwest “called on elected leaders from the region to fulfill their commitment to salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin, including breaching the four lower Snake River dams as soon as possible.”

They said Murray’s and Inslee’s recommendations provide “a presumptive path to dam replacement.”The organizations said “they would hold state and national leadership accountable to their commitment to expeditious movement,” including “breaching the dams by the end of the decade.”The organizations jointly released the following statements:“The Sierra Club applauds Senator Murray and Governor Inslee for setting forth a presumptive path for breaching the four lower Snake River dams as part of a Columbia Basin salmon plan. 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. The joint statement made clear we need to replace the services of the dams before we remove them. The statement was also clear that ‘extinction of salmon, orca and other iconic species in the Pacific Northwest is categorically unacceptable’ and ‘breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams should be an option…and that it must be an option we strive to make viable.’ As the final report from Murray/Inslee shows we can responsibly replace the services from the dams.

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. We are committed to working with all parties to move this forward and hold our leadership accountable for following through on these commitments.” Bill Arthur, Chair, Sierra Club Snake/Columbia River Salmon Campaign“We agree with the recommendations from Senator Murray and Governor Inslee that lower Snake River dam replacement services can and must be in place so we can breach the Snake River dams as soon as possible. We are pleased to see the emphasis on taking action now, as it is vital to enabling this transformation. 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.

Thank you, Senator Murray and Governor Inslee, for helping to chart our direction.” Nancy Hirsh, Executive Director, NW Energy Coalition“The fishing and conservation groups Earthjustice represents recently agreed to extend a stay of their litigation over dam operations because we believe this is a moment of opportunity for the Biden Administration to work in close coordination with Senator Murray, Governor Inslee, and the rest of the Northwest delegation to address and resolve this decades-long controversy. We will continue our work to advocate for removal of the four lower Snake River dams, which is the only solution to restore healthy wild salmon.” Todd True, Senior Attorney Northwest Regional Office, Earthjustice“NSIA will be forever grateful to leadership that recognizes that for fish and the fishing industry to succeed, we all must succeed.

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. 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.” Liz Hamilton, Executive Director, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association“Governor Inslee and Senator Murray claim that salmon extinction and the status quo are unacceptable. 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.” Miles Johnson, Senior Attorney, Columbia Riverkeeper“This moment is urgent for salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin, and we are closer than we’ve ever been to resolving the decades-long conflict between dams and salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

We are inspired by the Inslee-Murray report, and the leadership of Gov. Brown and Rep. Blumenauer. We look to our elected leaders across the Pacific Northwest to join them to swiftly advance a comprehensive solution to replace the services that the lower Snake River dams provide and save salmon from certain extinction.” Jason Wedemeyer, Executive Director, Association of Northwest Steelheaders“Recovery is within our grasp: we can bring back our fish and do so in a way that strengthens the regional economy, repairs critical infrastructure, retains services, and lifts Columbia Basin communities. Senator Murray and Governor Inslee have shown us a path forward, but we must move quickly beyond these recommendations to pass legislation, remove the lower four Snake River dams, and make critical investments while there is still time for Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead.” Greg McReynolds, Snake River Campaign Director, Trout Unlimited“Mile-for-mile, the Snake River basin contains the coldest, most undisturbed stream habitats in the Lower 48.

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.” Helen Neville, Chief Scientist, Trout Unlimited“Conservation and fishing advocates across the Northwest are deeply grateful for the leadership of Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee for their efforts to address one of our nation’s largest and most pressing river restoration, salmon recovery, and environmental justice issues. The framework Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee provided today marks an historic step toward ending decades of loss, uncertainty and expense associated with a failing status quo. Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee have clearly stated we should move forward with a plan to replace the benefits of LSRD, and implement a new comprehensive approach to protect and recover salmon and steelhead populations facing extinction today.

Our region and nation must work together to develop and begin to implement a plan to restore the lower Snake River, honor the treaty rights of Northwest tribes, invest and upgrade aging infrastructure, and create new economic opportunities for communities across our state and region that includes coastal and inland farmers and fishers. We understand there is much work to do to transition the services the lower Snake River Dams provide. We are ready to work, with the urgency the situation demands, with state and federal policymakers, Tribes, stakeholders, and communities to ensure a strategic, effective transition.” Joseph Bogaard, Executive Director, Save Our wild Salmon Coalition“In the decades-long effort to recover salmon and steelhead, science has finally taken precedence over hyperbole.

We are on the precipice of undertaking the largest river restoration and species recovery project in history, coupled with a transformational shift in upgrading critical infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest. We need swift action and bold leadership from our other elected officials to bring this across the finish line. We understand there is much to be done to plan and secure investments to transition the LSRD services effectively, yet emphasize the urgency of this matter.” Nic Nelson, Executive Director, Idaho Rivers United“Defenders urges policymakers to take swift action to make the infrastructure investments necessary to enable dam removal. 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 waste.” Kathleen Callaghy, Northwest Representative, Defenders of Wildlife“This is a watershed moment in the standoff over the Snake River dams. Senator Murray and Governor Inslee are clear – the dams are replaceable, and the status quo is done. It will take hard work, and the dams cannot come out today, but now is the moment to build a clean energy future that doesn’t sacrifice Snake River salmon or ignore the many injustices perpetuated by these dams against the Columbia River Basin Tribes.” Giulia Good Stefani, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council“Senator Murray and Governor Inslee have laid out what is necessary for river restoration. We agree that the dams’ most important services can and must be replaced, but time is of the essence.

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.” Mitch Cutter, Salmon & Steelhead Associate, Idaho Conservation League

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