Comment: Murray and Inslee Should Support Removal of Snake Dams
By Joseph Bogaard / For the herald
Today, Northwest salmon biologists and the Northwestern tribes who have relied on salmon for thousands of years agree that the Snake River salmon will be extinct within the next decade if the four dams in the Lower Snake River is not removed.
Scientists also agree that removing the dam is critical to the survival of southern resident killer whales, as Snake River chinook salmon are a vital seasonal food source.
As the salmon goes, so goes the killer whale.
And yet, after decades of political inertia to save the salmon, last February a white knight in the guise of Representative Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, released a comprehensive proposal to remove the four dams on the Snake River and to provide billions for affected communities, federal agencies and industries as a whole.
So, as a Democrat and a supporter of Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray, I was shocked and dismayed when the two rejected Simpson’s proposal without any explanation in a joint May 14 statement. Oddly enough, the Inslee-Murray statement committed to going through the same full process with stakeholders to find a solution to the salmon crisis that Simpson had already done, but without committing to removing the dam or provide a timetable or a roadmap to arrive at a better proposal.
Inslee and Murray are expected to immediately reverse their position and unite politicians in the Northwest to join Simpson in inserting funding for his proposal into President Biden’s hard or soft infrastructure legislation currently being negotiated in Congress.
There is no more time to test the good faith of Inslee and Murray. Scientists say the Snake River salmon will be extinct within the next decade without removal of the dam, and the Simpson proposal will not begin removing the dam until 2030, when new infrastructure for affected industries is operational.
Politically, the narrow window to secure funding for the Simpson proposal in the Biden legislation could close by the end of this year, and it must be funded, drafted and enacted by November 2022 if the House or Senate passes. under Republican control after the midterm elections.
Inslee and Murray’s leadership is essential because all four dams are in Washington, so senators and other members of Congress from Washington and the other Northwestern states are waiting for them to pass the proposal. To date, the proposal has received two other approvals from the Northwest: Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Portland US Representative Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats.
Senator Murray’s leadership is particularly critical because she has seniority and influence over the key committees that would fund the proposal.
Governor Inslee should warmly embrace the Simpson proposal because the dam removal is based on the best available science, one of Inslee’s fundamental principles for its policy decisions. Notably, for Inslee and Murray, the Simpson proposal is supported by two of their most important political bases: traditional environmental groups and Northwestern tribes.
By rejecting Simpson’s bipartisan proposal, Inslee and Murray let politics trump solid science. Neither Inslee nor Murray want the Snake River salmon extinction to happen under their watch and become their legacy.
Joseph Bogaard is the Executive Director of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of Northwestern and national advocates for conservation, recreation and clean energy. He lives on Vashon Island.