OPINION: Ditch the secret backroom dam breaching deals. Let’s focus on common ground.

Monday December 18, 2023

By Governor Brad Little and Lt. Governor Scott Bedke

The recent agreement between the Biden Administration and the states of Washington and Oregon and the tribes on dam breaching represents a missed opportunity.

Instead of working together to find common ground, the signatories to the agreement pandered to their political supporters and paid no attention to the REAL impacts dam removal would have on Idahoans.

As Idaho state leaders, we are united in our strong opposition to removing the dams because it would eliminate a clean source of energy (hydropower) that powers the entire region, harm agriculture, and fundamentally change our economy for the worse.

Sustaining healthy salmon and steelhead populations is important. But make no mistake, that is not what this deal does.

The deal that was released to the parties with only weeks to examine is an aspirational document that spends Pacific Northwest ratepayer money with little to no accountability for outcomes in fish populations or energy production. Perhaps what’s worse, the deal contemplates eliminating thousands of megawatts of clean energy while the region is facing an 8,000-megawatt energy deficit in the next decade.

You don’t have to take it from us. Just look at the inland ports, agriculture commodity groups, and local communities that are impacted by the deal. They are opposed to the settlement agreement, and for good reason. Not only were they not included in the process, but they were flatly ignored when they tried to give input. 

Additionally, breaching the dams threatens regional economic stability and power system reliability. Without the certainty provided by clean hydropower, the Pacific Northwest would be left with unreliable power sources that simply can’t replace firm, dispatchable power.

Take Portland for example. The region has 7,000 megawatts of intermittent wind power. During the Portland "Heat Dome," less than 400 megawatts were generated by wind and the region had to go to the market to buy expensive energy sources during peak demand.

We believe the authors of this deal are genuine in their desire to do what they believe is right for constituents. Unfortunately, it appears they only listened to a select few constituents in the region while disregarding many.

A truly inclusive process would have acknowledged that we can provide structural repairs and improvements that benefit fish while simultaneously preserving the region’s critical access to clean hydropower the dams provide.  

A better process would have uncovered river operations that would improve fish passage.

A better process would have revealed that the region needs MORE energy production on top of our current baseload. 

In fact, a better process still may have even included many of the fish restoration projects contained within the current settlement document.

But as long as the proponents of the agreement include language that suggests we breach clean hydropower, Idaho has no choice but to stand in opposition. We simply can’t afford to let Idaho communities, farmers, and ratepayers suffer.