Secret Biden Administration Deals are Being Made to Remove Large Dams in the Pacific Northwest to Increase Salmon Numbers

For more than half-a-century, four Lower Snake River dams in southeastern Washington State have been a source of renewable hydroelectric power and, more recently, controversy and litigation. Environmental extremist groups and some Native American tribal entities claim the dams’ effect on wild salmon migration merits the removal or breaching of the dams for the purposes of “racial and environmental justice.” To date, the ongoing battle has largely resulted in a costly stalemate, and the dams have remained, providing electric power to much of the region

Secret Negotiations between Extremists and the U.S. Government

In November 2023, it was revealed that opponents of the dams have been negotiating in secret with the Biden administration, pushing a scheme to remove the dams while leaving all other stakeholders entirely out of the process. Environmental extremist groups currently involved in a lawsuit against the federal government regarding these dams agreed to pause litigation if a “jointly developed package of actions and commitments” is approved by December 15, 2023.

Earthjustice is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, representing a coalition of special interest extremist groups, notably including the National Wildlife Federation and the now radical Sierra Club. The lawsuit also has support from some Native American tribes and coalitions. With zero regard for other concerns and points of view, these groups are narrowly focused on the movement and habitats of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, even though salmon are not endangered globally.

The environmental crusaders blatantly ignore the devastating dam breaching or removal effects would have to the region’s economy, food security, energy security, and, ironically, based on the environmental extremists’ own standards, the overall environment itself.

Dams Are Critical for the Region’s Renewable Electricity and Agriculture

The Lower Granite, Ice Harbor, Little Goose, and Lower Monumental dams were built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Army Corps of Engineers between Pasco, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho. Their main purpose was to ensure the Snake River was passable for barges navigating the river to and from the Lewiston, Idaho, seaport. The Port of Lewiston is the farthest inland seaport on the west coast, located 465 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and is a vital transportation artery for the regional economy.

Agriculture is one of Washington’s core industries. The state is the nation’s number one producer of apples, blueberries, hops, pears, spearmint oil, and sweet cherries, although volumetrically, wheat is one of the state’s largest agricultural exports. Washington is the fourth largest wheat producer in the United States, behind only North Dakota, Kansas, and Montana. Over two million acres of wheat were harvested in Washington in 2023, amounting to 113 million bushels. One bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds, and according to the National Association of Wheat Growers, “a bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half-pound commercial loaves of white bread or about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.”

The dam-enhanced river system facilitates transporting approximately 60 percent of Washington’s annual wheat crop, and 10 percent of all wheat exported by the United States. Without river transport, wheat producers would be forced to rely on trucks and trains, which are ironically fueled by the carbon-based energy that environmental extremists have demonized. A semi-truck can haul around 1,000 bushels of wheat. Therefore, based on most recent statistics, not accounting for miles or hours hauled, it would take approximately 113,000 semi-loads annually to replace river barge transportation of Washington’s wheat.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Market Analyst Michael Anderson explained:

“The rivers can move more volume at once, with greater fuel efficiency. One barge can carry the same amount of wheat as 35 rail cars or 134 trucks. A barge tow can carry more than one 100-unit (railcar) train or 538 trucks. And one barge can move a ton of wheat 647 miles per gallon while a truck can only move a ton of wheat 145 miles per gallon.”

Renewable, Clean, Reliable Hydroelectric Power

While the primary purpose of the dams was to enable river transport, the dams have also provided clean, reliable, renewable hydroelectric energy to millions of customers since being constructed. According to the NW Energy Coalition, on average, the four dams produce about 1,000 megawatts (MW) of power throughout the year. However, they can produce as much as 2,200 MW during peak energy demand. One megawatt equals one million watts or 1,000 kilowatts, which is roughly enough electricity to supply a total of 800,000 homes.

It is estimated the removal of the dams would cost up to $2.6 billion dollars, not including the cost of replacing the energy they produce.

Empty, Expensive Promises of Energy Replacement

In the back-room scheming of the Biden administration and dam opponents, the administration has indicated that the federal government would work to construct new “clean” energy infrastructure to compensate for the loss of energy that removal of the dams would cause, but cost estimates are vague. The potential transportation disruption, cost and adverse environmental impact from eliminating the dams has been ignored by the negotiating parties.

An article in Ag Proud-Idaho stated that the cost to replace the energy produced by the four dams would be $12 billion, and that’s based on using technology that does not yet exist. Estimates indicate that the actual cost with the utilization of current technology would be a whopping $77 billion dollars, none of which would be shouldered by Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, or National Wildlife Federation. The cost would fall on taxpayers/electricity ratepayers.

Additionally, data indicates that replacing hydroelectric power generated by the dams with natural gas generation would increase carbon emissions by as much as 2.6 million metric tons per year, which is equals the output of 421,000 passenger cars, something Biden administration “climate czar” John Kerry should be concerned about, and oppose. According to Northwest River Partners, “the cost to replace lower Snake River dams’ capacity and energy while maintaining system reliability with natural gas would be $274 million to $372 million per year.”

“Fishy” Business

In a March 2023 speech, President Biden rationalized removal of the dams in order to “bring healthy and abundant salmon runs back to the Columbia River system.”

Each year, wild salmon enter the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean and swim hundreds of miles upstream to spawn in the Snake River and some of its smaller tributaries. Spawning occurs at different times of the year, depending on salmon species. Washington rivers have six different species of salmon: Chinook, Coho, pink, chum, Atlantic, and sockeye.

According to the United States Geological Survey:

“Certain populations of sockeye, Coho, Chinook and Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered. Sockeye salmon from the Snake River system are probably the most endangered salmon. Coho salmon in the lower Columbia River may already be extinct. Salmon are not endangered worldwide. For example, most populations in Alaska are healthy.”

Since the construction of the four dams in question, the federal government has spent $17 billion to support salmon populations and the fishing industry, constructing infrastructure including hatcheries that raise Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as enhancements to the dams, such as fish ladders, to improve the success of wild salmon migration. Collectively, the survival rate of steelhead and salmon migrating over the dams is above 90 percent.

Thus, it stands to reason the state of Washington has thriving commercial and recreational fishing industries. Washington has the largest system of salmon hatcheries in the world, with over 100 state, federal, and tribal facilities. Combined, these hatcheries generate more than 200 million fish each year, and produce the majority of all salmon caught in Washington. State operated hatcheries alone account for approximately $70 million in total personal annual income from fishing.

With literally millions of salmon in the river system, a process was devised to identify hatchery raised fish, which are marked by clipping the adipose fin on hatchery raised Chinook or Coho salmon. This allows anglers to discern if a catch can be kept or released. Washington has a complex set of rules governing salmon fishing, including catch limits and species-specific required release of wild salmon in certain seasons and areas.

Salmon are Central to Native American Culture, but at What Cost?

According to an article from Tacoma news outlet, the News Tribune, a 2021 survey showed that 313,633 people in Washington identified as all or part Native, accounting for 4.1 percent of the total population.

Salmon are sacred to Pacific Northwest tribes, and are honored as one of the First Foods in tribal ceremonies. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission website states:

“In 1855, the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs tribes signed a treaty with the United States government to reserve, forever, their right to fish at all of their usual and accustomed places.”

Nevertheless, there is some disagreement in Native communities about the role of hatchery raised salmon in their culture. On one hand, some maintain that hatchery fish are “treaty fish,” while others feel that, regardless of plentiful hatchery raised salmon in the river system, reduced populations of wild salmon create a “food justice” issue.

Further, while some Native entities have aligned with environmental extremists as a means to an end in their quest for dam removal, others appreciate the importance of hatcheries to their continued cultural preservation, and recognize the reality of the environmental extremist movement.

Lisa Wilson is a Lummi Indian Business Council member. In 2021, she wrote:

“There is no single known instance of a wild salmon or steelhead population going extinct while a local hatchery was producing the same stock. Meanwhile, several hundred unique West Coast populations have gone extinct in places where there are no local hatcheries.

There is no legal ground to challenge our hatchery programs, and yet we face the constant threat of litigation. Some organizations masquerade as conservation groups, seeking donations to help salmon recovery, then spend money on lawsuits against our treaty rights.

To make matters worse, we find ourselves having to compete for funding with these groups as tribes fight to solve a problem we didn’t create – to recover the fisheries that were promised to us in treaties.

If conservation groups really want to help recover salmon, they should invest time and money toward protecting and restoring habitat. In the meantime, they should advocate for the hatcheries that provide sustainable numbers of salmon.”

In 2011 and 2014, during the Obama administration, two dams constructed in the early 1900s on Washington’s Elwha River were removed, mainly for the sake of salmon migration. It was, to date, the largest dam removal in U.S. history. This begs the question: how much is enough?

The cultural significance of salmon to Native Americans is undeniable, but whether or not the migration of wild salmon will take precedence over the food and energy needs of the population as a whole remains to be seen. However, it is abundantly clear that salmon, which we reiterate are not endangered on a global level, are simply another pawn in the anti-human environmental extremist movement to deconstruct hundreds of years of human progress.

Idaho rancher and columnist Gus Brackett wrote in Ag Proud-Idaho:

“In our drive to return ecosystems to their natural state, I have one reminder for our society: Nature can be very ugly. The natural world will spread its ugliness with the indifferent glee of a Yellowstone bison tossing an international tourist across a field. That is the thrill of nature; it is a chance to hone our prehistoric instincts from a time when everything around us would bite, sting, fight, poison or devour us.

Yes, nature is ugly, and that was why our forefathers worked so hard to tame nature. They eliminated threats we encounter daily. They also tamed climatological threats like flooding, drought and famine, but it required dams on rivers. We should be reluctant to remove these modern marvels. We should craft public policy that appreciates the society-enhancing advancements of the last 150 years. We can listen to the ideas of environmentalists, but don’t implement their ridiculous public policy.”

At Protect The Harvest we believe in clean air, clean water, conserving nature’s beauty, geographic diversity, properly stewarding the nation’s resources, and properly providing for flora, fauna, and people. We also believe in A Free and Fed America™ in which backroom federal government deals to achieve ideological goals without input from “we the people” is considered a dereliction of the federal government’s duty and obligation to represent all Americans.

Helpful References:

Facts about the Lower Snake River dams HERE

Washington agriculture HERE

Sierra Club HERE

Not so green energy HERE

Energy and food security HERE

More details on the current lawsuit and secret dealings between government and environmental extremist groups HERE and HERE

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