[env-trinity] Greg King's My Word : Dam removal 'off-ramps' ahead

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Sun Nov 16 10:33:39 PST 2008

Dam removal 'off-ramps' ahead

Greg King/My Word/the Times-Standard

The recently signed "Agreement in Principle" (AIP) to remove dams on the Klamath River may result in dam decommissioning, but it's not likely.

Instead, the fragile deal between the states of Oregon and California, the Bush Administration and dam owner PacifiCorp -- but no other Klamath River stakeholders -- could mean that dams will remain in place for a number of years before PacifiCorp takes one of the legal "off-ramps" built into the deal and abandons dam removal altogether.

One of the most dangerous off-ramps is spelled out in the U.S. Department of the Interior's own press release lauding the AIP: "The United States will make a final determination by March 31, 2012, whether the benefits of dam removal will justify the costs. ... At that point, the United States shall designate a non-federal dam removal entity (DRE) to remove the dams or decline to remove the dams at which point PacifiCorp will return to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for relicensing."

That is, economic considerations, as defined solely by the federal government, could once again trump the needs of the Klamath River's endangered fish species, at least three of which -- Coho salmon, spring run Chinook salmon, and green sturgeon -- are close to extinction. Klamath River chum and pink salmon populations are already extinct.

Another off-ramp would allow PacifiCorp to abandon pursuit of a "401" clean water permit, which is required to in order to obtain a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the dams. For PacifiCorp this is a coup. The company was able to delay the 401 process for two years, but the State Water Resources Control Board, which issues 401 permits in California, recently mandated that the company comply with state and federal laws and submit its application for the permit.

This process recently resulted in five well attended public hearings throughout the north state, during which dozens of scientists, policy analysts and lay people insisted that the toxic water behind PacifiCorp's dams couldn't possible meet state water quality standards. Without a 401 permit FERC cannot relicense the dams, and they would mostly likely have to be torn down.

Now the 401 process is in danger of languishing in legal limbo, which is exactly where PacifiCorp wants it.

Another likely deal killer is the need for the states of California and Oregon, as well as the U.S. government, to pass legislation that approves as well as funds dam removal. In the case of California such legislation could be a tough sell, given that it will require a $250 million bond to be passed by California voters. Such passage may occur, but its defeat is just as likely as the state spirals into a financial disaster. This would kill dam removal.

In addition, the AIP would codify the 256-page Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), the uncompleted and highly flawed water giveaway to agriculture that has not been signed by any of the parties that created it.

The AIP could also tie the hands of the Obama administration, which undoubtedly would have a much different set of priorities for the Klamath River, such as recovery of salmon.
While the KBRA represents a Bush give-away to Big Ag, the Klamath dam AIP represents an even bigger Bush gift to Big Energy. It will allow PacifiCorp to escape from its obligations to clean up the river and protect endangered species, and to abandon dam removal at just about any time between now and 2020.

We have come to expect such shams from the Bush administration, and we can certainly expect better from Obama, who should be allowed to help solve one of the nation's most critical river issues.

Greg King is executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center

Kier Associates, Fisheries and Watershed Professionals
P.O. Box 915
Blue Lake, CA 95525
mobile: 498.7847 

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