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Columbia River Settlement Agreement Filed in Federal District Court 

A settlement agreement was filed on Dec. 14 in federal district court in Oregon that sets commitments made by the U.S. Government and implemented through a Memorandum of Understanding, “Columbia River Basin Restoration Initiative,” between the United States, the States of Oregon and Washington, the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama Tribes and environmental non-profit organizations.

The White House press release announcing the agreement is available here.

The American Public Power Association said on Dec. 15 that it was reviewing the full settlement agreement, but that it appears to be substantially similar to a document, “U.S. Government Commitments in Support of the Columbia River Basin Restoration Initiative and in Partnership with the Six Sovereigns,” that was leaked last month.

That document, while acknowledging that breaching the Lower Snake River Dams requires congressional approval, stated the U.S. Government’s commitment “to restoration of the Lower Snake River, including dam breach,” and outlined numerous commitments to six sovereign Indian nations to “make headway” on their restoration goals.

APPA and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association sent a joint letter to Energy Secretary Granholm on December 1 expressing alarm with the leaked document, as well as dismay with the lack of transparency in the Columbia River System Operations mediation process.

In response to the settlement agreement, the Public Power Council on Dec. 14 said that the agreement “goes well beyond creating a roadmap for breaching the lower Snake River dams, establishing a plan that could demolish the capabilities of the entire Federal Columbia River Power System.”

As an example, PPC said the documents “repeatedly require” the U.S. government to consult and defer to plaintiff organizations without any requirement of engaging those reliant on the hydropower system and its many benefits.

The U.S. government “notably excludes sideboards that would ensure the region’s clean energy mandates are reached before any actions are taken that would reduce the CO2-free generation provided by the dams,” PPC said.

“Further, operational changes to the hydropower system are untested and leave many open questions about impacts. Contemplated additions of new ‘replacement resources’ appear to not even come close to the reliable performance features of clean, renewable hydro projects,” the group said.

Scott Simms, CEO and Executive Director of PPC, said PPC will be considering the pursuit of all available avenues to address the concerns posed by the agreement.

PPC is an association that represents over 100 consumer-owned electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest.

PPC’s mission is to preserve and protect the benefits of the Federal Columbia River Power System for consumer-owned utilities, and is a forum to identify, discuss and build consensus around energy and utility issues.

House Hearing

Simms was one of several panelists who participated in a Dec. 12 hearing held by the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries that examined the leaked document.

Other panelists at the hearing were Neil Maunu, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, Humaira Falkenberg, Power Resources Manager, Pacific County PUD and Lindsay Slater, Vice President of Government Relations, Trout Unlimited.

The hearing focused on two key themes: process and impact.

Republican subcommittee members and Simms, Falkenberg, and Maunu, expressed frustration and anger that the National Marine Fisheries Service reversed course, claiming that “the science robustly supports dam removal on the Snake River” in order to recover salmon and steelhead, after a multi-year, multi-million 2020 final biological opinion found that the operation and maintenance of the Columbia River system was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Snake River salmon, steelhead and other fish species.

Republican subcommittee members and Simms, Falkenberg, and Maunu, also expressed frustration that public power ratepayers, irrigators, navigational interests and local communities were largely left out of the closed mediation process which produced the leaked agreement.

Republicans, as well as Simms, Maunu, and Falkenberg, addressed the numerous negative impacts that the agreement document has already had and could have, if implemented including:

  • The loss of clean, baseload hydropower which effect electric power reliability in the Pacific Northwest;
  • Increased costs for ratepayers (that would fall most heavily on low income customers);
  • Increased car and rail traffic due to the loss of navigation; and
  • Decreased irrigation and flood control mechanisms

Simms and Falkenberg also said that even the discussion of dam breaching and layering on more costs on ratepayers for additional environmental mitigation measures is causing Bonneville Power Administration customers to evaluate the viability of signing 20 year contracts when the existing contracts end in a few years.

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