For Immediate Release, March 16, 2021

Contact:

Quinn Read, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 979-3074, QRead@biologicaldiversity.org
John DeVoe, WaterWatch of Oregon, john@waterwatch.org, (503) 295-4039 x 1
Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy, kurt@wildfishconservancy.org, (206) 310-9301
David A. Moskowitz, The Conservation Angler, david@theconservationangler.org, (971) 235-8953

Northwest Senators Urged to Reject Rep. Simpson’s Disastrous Plan for Endangered Salmon

PORTLAND, Ore.— A coalition of conservation, water policy, and agricultural sustainability groups representing millions of Americans is voicing the first environmental opposition to a proposed dam breaching deal that has, until now, garnered praise.

In a letter sent today to Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, the groups stated their opposition to Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-Idaho) “Energy and Salmon Concept,” which proposes a deal to trade breaching the four Lower Snake River dams for the modern era’s most extensive rollbacks of protections for clean water, imperiled species and public health.

While the groups strongly support the removal of the four dams to help restore the region’s wild salmon and steelhead and recognize the need to assist those affected by the dams’ breaching, their letter explains that necessary changes “cannot be achieved by suspending the protections of our bedrock environmental laws for a generation or more, along with an unprecedented attack on environmental justice for millions of people that live across the Columbia River basin.”

“Rep. Simpson’s proposal is a nonstarter,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Lower Snake River dams need to be removed, but there’s no reason to package that with an extraordinary list of other actions that would irreparably damage clean water, human health, wildlife, and the communities that call the Columbia River basin home. If Rep. Simpson’s truly serious about saving the region’s salmon, and not just protecting and enriching polluters, as this proposal would, he should be strengthening our clean water, public health and species protection laws, not throwing them out the window.”

Today’s letter explains that Rep. Simpson’s proposal would suspend, for 25 years, basic accountability under the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act for the agricultural sector and would transfer water management across the Columbia Basin states to agribusiness. It would also give a 35-year extension of the operating licenses to over 80 other significant dams in the Columbia Basin while also exempting those dams from accountability for clean water and harmful impacts on wild salmon and other species.

“It’s great that Rep. Simpson has triggered a discussion, but his assumptions are dead wrong,” said John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch Oregon. “Clean water, environmental justice for people, and the protection of wild salmon must be the foundation of the path forward for the basin, not trading chips in a massive poker game.”

The proposal would also provide billions in assistance purportedly to offset the harm from breaching the dams, but unfortunately focuses those dollars on assisting special interests, including for the development of small modular nuclear reactors, hydrogen storage, and expanded factory farm operations like mega-dairies.

“This proposal would ensure a future for the basin that includes more polluted, hotter water in the basin’s rivers, the extinction of wild salmon runs, more toxic fish for people to eat, and no accountability for dams and agricultural special interests,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. “What a terrible legacy this could leave for the next generation in the Columbia Basin.”

“We would not even be having this discussion about dam removal if it were not for our nation’s strong environmental laws,” said David Moskowitz, executive director of the Conservation Angler. “Now, Rep. Simpson proposes to take away these very same tools that can ensure protection of salmon and steelhead in other watersheds across the basin including the Willamette, Deschutes and Upper Columbia basins. It’s simply not acceptable to sacrifice all the basin’s other salmon for those in the Snake River.”

The letter concludes: “The current proposal sacrifices too much, fails to address major limiting factors in the survival of wild salmon, steelhead, and other species in the Columbia Basin, and would lock in a failed status quo or worse for much of the rest of the basin, while providing a financial and regulatory windfall for some of the very forces that are responsible, in large part, for the plight of these species and many of the most serious environmental justice issues in the basin.”

Groups signing the letter to the four senators opposing the Simpson Proposal include the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Partnership, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Deschutes River Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Native Fish Society, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Oregon Wild, Spokane Riverkeeper, the Conservation Angler, WaterWatch of Oregon, Wild Fish Conservancy, Willamette Riverkeeper, and WildEarth Guardians.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.