Comment: Murray, Inslee should back removal of Snake’s dams

The river’s salmon may be gone in a matter of years. The plan to remove dams can save them and more.

By Peter Hapke / For The Herald

Today, Northwest salmon biologists and Northwest Tribes that have depended on salmon for thousands of years agree that Snake River salmon will go extinct in the next decade or so if the four Lower Snake River dams are not removed.

Scientists also agree that dam removal is crucial for southern resident orca survival, since Snake River chinook salmon are a vital seasonal food source.

As go the salmon, so go the orca.

And yet, after decades of political inertia to save the salmon, this February, a white knight in the guise of Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, issued a comprehensive proposal to remove the four Lower Snake River dams and provide billions to make the affected communities, federal agencies and industries whole.

Thus, as a Democrat and supporter of Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, I was shocked and dismayed when both rejected Simpson’s proposal without any explanation in a May 14 joint statement. Oddly, the Inslee-Murray statement committed to doing the same comprehensive stakeholder process to find a solution to the salmon crisis as Simpson had already done, but without committing to dam removal or providing any timeline and roadmap to get to a better proposal.

Inslee and Murray should immediately reverse their position and unite Northwest politicians to join Simpson to insert funding for his proposal in President Biden’s hard or soft infrastructure legislation currently being negotiated in Congress.

There is no time left to test the good faith of Inslee and Murray. The scientists say the Snake River salmon will be gone in the next decade or so, without dam removal, and the Simpson proposal does not begin dam removal until 2030 when the new infrastructure for the affected industries will be operational.

Politically, the narrow window to get funding for the Simpson proposal in the Biden legislation may close by the end of this year, and it must be funded, drafted and signed into law by November 2022 if either the House or Senate flip to Republican control after the mid-term elections.

The leadership of Inslee and Murray is essential because the four dams are in Washington and thus the senators and other members of Congress from Washington and the other Northwest states are waiting for them to move on the proposal. To date, the proposal has received two other Northwest endorsements: Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown and Portland’s U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats.

Sen. Murray’s leadership is especially critical because she has seniority and influence on the key committees that would fund the proposal.

Gov. Inslee should warmly embrace the Simpson proposal because dam removal is based on best available science, one of Inslee’s bedrock principles for his policy decisions. Notably, for both Inslee and Murray the Simpson proposal is supported by two of their most important political bases: mainstream environmental groups and Northwest Tribes.

In rejecting the bipartisan Simpson proposal, Inslee and Murray are letting politics trump sound science. Neither Inslee nor Murray wants Snake River salmon extinction to occur on their watch and become their legacy.

Peter Hapke is Seattle attorney, specializing in environmental law.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the above commentary was attributed to a different author. Peter Hapke is the author.

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