From the NFGA Newsletter, Volume 75, No. 43, December 1, 2023.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, a group of Northwest lawmakers asked for clarification regarding a leaked mediation document detailing U.S. government commitments in the Columbia-Snake River Basin.

“As best we can tell, this document reflects the negotiating positions of the U.S. Government (USG) in the long-standing mediation concerning the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO). Due to the document’s use of vague and imprecise language, it appears susceptible to misinterpretation,” wrote Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.; Cliff Bentz, R-Ore.; and Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho.

“It is imperative that our constituents, whose livelihoods depend on the Columbia River System, have a comprehensive understanding of this document’s contents so they can anticipate and prepare for the wide-ranging impacts that will inevitably be felt across the region should the commitments detailed in this document be realized,” they continue. “Additionally…we must ensure any actions committed to as part of this agreement do not circumvent by any means the congressional authorization that would be required to execute certain proposed provisions, such as the removal of certain dams.”

The leaked draft document says the U.S. government is “committed to exploring restoration of the lower Snake River, including dam breach.” However, Congress has exclusive authority over decisions to breach the dams.

Throughout the letter, the lawmakers raise numerous questions about provisions in the document, including:

  • Is there any scenario that would lead your administration to proceed with breaching without express authorization from Congress?
  • Is it your official position at this point in time that these dams should ultimately be breached?
  • Does the government seek to advance efforts to breach the Lower Snake River dams after securing the “Pacific Northwest Tribal Energy Program”?
  • Did the USG rely on any additional scientific reports or studies, other than the NOAA report, which show categorically the science on salmon recovery in the Columbia River basin is clear? If so, why is this the only report cited by the USG in this document?
  • According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), salmon face several health impacts from impaired water quality in the Puget Sound. Why is the USG relying on a report that does not take this and other factors that impact salmon runs into account?
  • What is the plan to fund the $200,000,000 commitment for the Phase 2 Implementation Plan for salmon reintroduction?
  • Have there been consultations with any Members of Congress in drafting either this section or any of the other commitments made in the document? If so, have written assurances of authorizing appropriations of these funds been made?

“We respectfully request that a list of groups and individual voices that were included in the development of this package be provided,” the lawmakers concluded, adding that clarity and certainty must be provided “so we can achieve our common goal of a durable, long-term strategy for the future of the CRSO.”