Idaho Enters Decade-Long Legal Battle Over Dams, Salmon, and Environmental Impact Agreement
The state of Idaho has recently entered a long-standing legal battle regarding the operation of federal dams on Washington’s Lower Snake River and their impact on wild salmon populations. Last week, the Biden administration unveiled an agreement involving Washington, Oregon, and four tribal nations, proposing a 10-year pause in legal proceedings. This period aims to implement a plan to enhance fish numbers and survivability, including potential dam breaches.
Judge Michael H. Simon has set deadlines for responses and rebuttals before making a ruling. The dispute originated in May 2001, when the National Wildlife Federation and Oregon sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for allegedly failing to protect endangered salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Idaho, the latest litigant, filed a complaint on December 1. Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador contends that dam breaching is not a viable remedy since the dams predate the federal designation of salmon as endangered.
Labrador emphasizes Idaho’s direct interests in the Lower Snake River dams, providing a navigable channel for Idaho’s commodities and offering electricity, recreational resources, and economic benefits. U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris and Dan Newhouse, representing districts with the four dams, expressed concerns about the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative.
They argue that the initiative, which mentions dam breaching 68 times, would render the dams obsolete, catering to extreme environmental activists. Newhouse insists that only Congress has the authority to remove the dams.
The initiative includes a memorandum of understanding with six sovereigns, including Washington, Oregon, and tribal nations, along with environmental organizations represented by EarthJustice.
The White House states that the agreement aims to diversify energy options, ensuring reliability, affordability, and key services. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek praised the initiative.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray acknowledged the importance of salmon to the region’s economy, culture, environment, and tribes. However, she emphasized the need to consider diverse perspectives, including growers, producers, public utilities, river users, and ports, ensuring their voices are heard in ongoing discussions.