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By Roger Harnack
Whitman County Gazette 

Snake River salmon pact filed in court

Lawsuit leads to after-breach dam plan


December 21, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden Administration and environmental activists formalized an agreement Dec. 14 on plans to manage and improve salmon populations on the Snake River.

A “memorandum of understanding” was filed with U.S. District Court in an attempt to curtail lawsuits over salmon and efforts by environmental activists to breach the four Lower Snake River dams.

The agreement was formally announced Thursday, Dec. 14, by the Biden Administration, more than two weeks after a leaked document was released to the public by 5th Congressional District Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane. It came a day before a court deadline to come to an agreement or continue litigation in U.S. District Court.

McMorris Rodgers said the previously secret document smacked of backroom deals and a lack of transparency between the activists, the Biden Administration, Gov. Jay Inslee and four tribes.

“This is too significant of a decision to make without an open, honest, and transparent regional dialogue,” McMorris Rodgers said.

McMorris Rodgers’ district includes all four Lower Snake River Dams.

State Sen. Mark Schoessler, R-Ritzville, has also called for transparency on the issue.

“Long story short, the four Snake River dams are still being targeted by opponents in the distant future, though for now, they appear safe,” the 9th Legislative District senator said. “If the dams’ foes eventually get their way and these dams are removed, it will negatively affect our region in terms of energy, transportation, irrigation and recreation.

In addition to salmon management, the agreement gives the four tribes – Yakama, Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Umatilla – the inside track on power generation should the dams be breached, which would take an act of Congress.

The agreement comes during a years-long lawsuit filed by Earth Justice on behalf of several environmental activist groups seeking to breach the dams.

In addition to the tribes and the Biden Administration, the states of Oregon and Washington participated in developing the pact in an effort to restore salmon runs.

Blaming the dams

Gov. Inslee has long blamed the dams for salmon run declination in Eastern Washington, as well as the declination of salmon in Puget Sound.

The court agreement comes just weeks after the federal Government Accountability Office, however, found that the plight of Puget Sound salmon is due to cities and counties in that area of Western Washington failing to control chemical-laded stormwater runoff and other contamination flowing into Puget Sound.

In the GAO report, the agency chastised the Inslee Administration and federal agencies for failing to work with Puget Sound municipalities to clean up the toxic chemicals flowing into the Sound.

The agency found that elevated water temperatures and pollution are the main reasons salmon are struggling in Western Washington.

According to the GAO, the neglect of the water quality issues in Puget Sound dates back to 2012, about the time Inslee became the top Democrat in the state (he was elected governor in 2012).

The GAO said the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Ecology had routinely failed to meet deadlines on water quality assessments, and therefore failed to take the necessary steps to stop the poisonous runoff from affecting salmon and orca populations.

The agency also said Puget Sound’s issues also extend to habitat degradation, overfishing, hydropower development there and predation.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

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Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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