By COOPER DART
Environmentally, we’ve lost Idaho’s congressmen.
On April 25, the bill H.R. 3144 passed through the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 225-189. The bill would overturn a federal judge’s 2016 decision forcing dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The judge’s decision was a direct response to the dramatic decline in the endangered Snake River sockeye salmon populations, causally linked to the construction of those dams between spawning streams and the ocean. Rep. Raul Labrador was a co-sponsor of H.R. 3144; Rep. Mike Simpson voted in favor.
Labrador and Simpson are selling our salmon for cheap power. These representatives support plans that explicitly violate the ESA and continue to damage salmon habitat. We must hold our congressmen accountable, especially now that the bill has been introduced in the Senate.
On May 4, 2016, Portland-based federal Judge Michael Simon called for an overhaul of the operating procedures of the Columbia and lower Snake River dams. He deemed a 2014 federal salmon protection plan insufficient in protecting the “critical habitat” of the endangered sockeye salmon, an essential facet of the ESA. Along with calling for a new biological opinion (BiOp) by March 2018, Simon demanded increased spill water over the dams to aid smolt in their journey to the ocean.
The bill passed by the House completely guts this decision. It postpones the proposal of a new BiOp until 2022, and, until then, the old plan will remain in place. Spill would be decreased to maximize hydroelectric output at the cost of the endangered salmon. Finally, the bill precludes any study on the removal of the four lower Snake River dams, and would require congressional approval to alter them in any way.
If this bill were to pass the Senate and be signed into law, shortsighted federal interests will thrive as our local environment suffers. The Bonneville Power Administration continues to push anachronistic power production methods on the Pacific Northwest while neglecting to focus on other renewables. The bill in Congress rejects the fluctuation inherent in environmental systems and the need to respond to change in a timely manner. To gain slightly cheaper power in the region, these congressmen lack any sense of urgency to amend insufficient salmon protection. The bill directly opposes the ESA and will have recognizable impacts on central Idaho’s environment.
The fact that sockeye salmon returns are improving must be a call for further protection, not governmental laxity. So while Idaho’s congressmen push to devalue the names of the Salmon River and Redfish Lake by driving down sockeye levels, we might as well shave down the teeth of the Sawtooths and dredge the Big Wood River into a clean-walled conduit. Place names hold special power in directing the values of those who live nearby. At this rate, Labrador’s and Simpson’s names will grace maps of sterile streams and silent spring woods. How will future generations view our nature if Idaho is incongruent with its own names?
Thus, we must set the precedent of protection. While I applaud Simpson’s establishment of the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, his recent actions betray this commitment to Idaho’s nature. Please call Sens. James Risch and Mike Crapo and demand that they oppose this bill in the Senate.