Anchorage Assembly members trying to remove the Eklutna Dam are not seeing much in the way of formal resistance from lawmakers or even the public, at this point.
But in the hydro-rich Northwest states of the Lower 48, Republican members of Congress are proposing legislation to protect the power-generating Lower Snake River dams. They have introduced the “DAMN Act,” which stands for “Defending Against Manipulative Negotiators” Act.
The act was introduced by Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Eastern Washington, Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Cliff Bentz of Oregon, and Russ Fulcher of Idaho. The legislation seeks to bar any federal funding to stop or significantly change the operations of the dams on the Snake River, and blocks implementation of an EarthJustice-promoted project that was announced by the Biden Administration in December, the Columbia Basin Restorative Initiative.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Biden initiative are calling for restoration of salmon runs on the Snake, which provides renewable energy to a three-state region. According to Modern Electric Water Company of Spokane, the lower Snake River dams produce about as much annual energy (1,000 average megawatts) as a large nuclear power plant.
“But they can produce up to three times that amount during periods of high demand. As many as 750,000 homes rely on the carbon-free power generated by the lower Snake River dams,” the company says. “During times of extreme need, the lower Snake River dams can power up to 2.25 million homes.”
Demand will only continue to grow in the Northwest as the Biden Administration’s electric vehicle and electric appliance mandates kick in, forcing more pressure on to a grid that depends on water and turbines.
“We have yet to see an independent engineering, and cost-benefit and fish-benefit analysis, but recent studies concluded that breaching the four lower Snake River dams would cost taxpayers between $10.3 billion and $77 billion,” the company says.
Similarly, the proposal by by the Eklutna tribe in Anchorage, whose membership is about 70, has not seen engineering studies that show that Anchorage will not be starved of power, as well as water. In 2018, Eklutna produced 177,438 megawatt hours of clean energy, enough energy to power more than 24,600 of the 115,028 housing units that are in Anchorage for an entire year.
Allowing the Eklutna to run free has a possibility of damaging critical water pipes that supply water to Anchorage residents and businesses.
The dismantling of the Eklutna Dam will eventually land on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk.
In the Northwest, the dismantling or massive altering of the dams is supported by regional tribes, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, and Gov. Tina Kotek of Oregon, also a Democrat. The State of Idaho opposes the proposal.
While the dams have provided renewable energy that helps the economy of the Northwest, they came at a cost for migrating salmon. Now, the states’ economies hang in the balance, as the White House begins its push to dismantle the dams, something the DAMN Act is trying to stall until another administration is in power.
“The deal President Biden brokered with radical environmentalists behind closed doors will forever change the way our river system operates. It will devastate communities in Eastern Washington and across the Pacific Northwest, and it makes commitments on behalf of Congress without engaging with us,” said Rep. Rogers of Eastern Washington. “The administration understands only Congress has the authority to breach our dams. This legislation is how we use that power to make sure that never happens while protecting our region’s way of life from the consequences of this deeply misguided plan.”
The DAMN Act is supported by 10 stakeholders who represent large constituencies that would be directly affected by the removal and operational breaching of the Lower Snake River dams, including the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC), Public Power Council, Inland Power, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, Northwest River Partners, National Association of Wheat Growers, Washington Association of Wheat Growers, Washington State Potato Commission, Washington State Dairy Federation, and the Columbia Basin Development League.
“The four lower Snake River dams are critically important to the economy of the Tri-Cities and the entire Pacific Northwest region. Their importance was underscored earlier this month when the Bonneville Power Administration reported record high electricity demand, which could not have been met without the power produced by these dams. Congressman Newhouse has always been a champion of the Snake River dams, and we sincerely thank him for his continued support,” said Karl Dye, president and CEO of TRIDEC.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson said the covert agreement between the Biden administration and hydropower plaintiffs threatens hydropower production and would compromise electric reliability and affordability for millions in the western United States .
The draft settlement of the agreement was made public by lawmakers on Nov. 29, a final environmental impact statement released by the federal government on July 31, 2020, said the preferred alternative was that the four Lower Snake River dams – Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite – remain in place.
Supporting the DAMN Act are grower associations that provide food to the nation, including the National Grain and Feed Association, Washington Association of Wheat Growers, Washington State Potato Commission, and the Washington State Dairy Federation, whose CEO brought up another unintended consequence: “Breaching the Lower Snake River Dams will put tens of thousands of trucks on the highways and also crowd railway traffic. This will negatively impact feed and product transportation and dramatically reverse progress in reducing the carbon footprint of our state and nation.”