Jaime Herrera Beutler Calls on Port of Vancouver to Protect Hydropower, Resist Breaching of Snake River Dams

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler sent a letter to the Port of Vancouver commissioners today urging them to protect hydropower resources and resist calls to breach the Snake River dams.

Excerpts from her letter:

“Those who have called to breach or remove our dams do not have the best interests of Vancouver residents in mind, they do so without proper study or scientific basis – and their attack on our hydropower requires a strong, unified rejection by those of us charged with defending this community’s well-being.”

“Estimates show that it would take three nuclear, six coal-fired, or fourteen gas-fired power plants to provide the peaking capacity of the four Snake River dams alone. While hydropower is carbon-free, replacing its production with viable technology would produce at least as much carbon as adding 421,000 passenger cars to our roads each year.”

The full text of Herrera Beutler’s letter follows and a PDF version is available here.

Dear Commissioners:

I was deeply disappointed to learn that the Port of Vancouver has yet to take a position on breaching of the Snake River dams. I am writing today to urge the Port to take action and proactively defend our critical hydropower resources.

Given the profound impact this issue has on ratepayers in Clark County, and residents across the entire Pacific Northwest, it is imperative that the Port is an active partner in protecting the benefits of hydropower.

Our shared stakeholders including this region’s employers, farmers, utilities, waterway operators, businesses, neighboring ports and others have all come forward as strong advocates for the Snake River hydropower system as it comes under increasing attack from special interests mostly located outside of Southwest Washington. 

I’m certain you share my desire for clean, renewable and low-cost energy; in those regards, hydropower is unmatched among reliable energy sources. Estimates show that it would take three nuclear, six coal-fired, or fourteen gas-fired power plants to provide the peaking capacity of the four Snake River dams alone. While hydropower is carbon-free, replacing its production with viable technology would produce at least as much carbon as adding 421,000 passenger cars to our roads each year.

The price of removing these dams that would be borne by our shared constituents would be staggering. As you know, the Columbia and Snake rivers account for 40 percent of all hydropower across the United States and generates over 60 percent of energy in the region.  According to Bonneville Power Administration, the estimated costs of deconstruction and breaching would range between $1.3 and $2.6 billion[1]. This estimate did not account for the additional costs of replacing lost power generation.

Furthermore, dam removal would be immensely destructive to navigation.  Annually, the Columbia-Snake river navigation system moves over 50 million tons of cargo to and from the Pacific Ocean, with an estimated value of $21 billion. To replace barging of this magnitude would require thousands of additional rail cars, and well over 100,000 added semi-trucks.

Fish passage on the Columbia River system is a high priority, and it cannot be ignored that BPA has directed billions of dollars toward fish and wildlife protection: modernizing fish passage, restoring habitat, updating dam design, and improving river flow. These efforts have led to a steady increase in salmon runs, and juvenile fish survival rates are now between 95 and 98 percent at each of the eight federal dams.

Those who have called to breach or remove our dams do not have the best interests of Vancouver residents in mind, they do so without proper study or scientific basis – and their attack on our hydropower requires a strong, unified rejection by those of us charged with defending this community’s well-being.   

Amidst a decades-long debate regarding the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System, a growing number have called to breach or remove our dams without proper study or scientific basis. This is deeply concerning, and stakeholders are proactively working to ensure that both endangered species recovery and the operation of our river systems is evidence-based and rooted in science. Recently, a joint stakeholder letter, which the Port did not sign, urged the Washington State Senate to reject proposals to study dam breaching in a manner that is duplicative and undermines the Columbia River Systems Operations Environmental Impact Statement (CRSO EIS) process. Under the CRSO EIS, agencies are required to evaluate a range of operation alternatives for federal hydropower facilities along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Along with the agencies, all Northwest states and tribes are participating in this process, which has also provided opportunities for public and stakeholder input. This process must be allowed to continue.

It is my hope that the Port will take action in the best interest of the public and stand up for a scientifically-based plan for the river system, one that appropriately balances energy production, conservation, and the needs of citizens across the state of Washington. At this critical juncture, now is not the time to remain on the sidelines. [1] https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/FactSheets/fs-201603-A-Northwest-energy-solution-Regional-power-benefits-of-the-lower-Snake-River-dams.pdf


[1] https://www.bpa.gov/news/pubs/FactSheets/fs-201603-A-Northwest-energy-solution-Regional-power-benefits-of-the-lower-Snake-River-dams.pdf