Oregon Gov. Kate Brown last week threw her weight behind the effort to remove the dams on the lower Snake River.
We think removing the dams is a bad idea. While we don’t question Brown’s sincerity, we wonder why she’s joined the fight when Oregon has no direct stake.
The dams in southeast Washington generate electricity and allow farmers to move grain by barge down the Columbia River’s main tributary.
Without the dams, the river would be too shallow to barge wheat and other farm goods the roughly 100 miles between Lewiston, Idaho, and the Tri-Cities. Lake Sacajawea, a reservoir created by Ice Harbor Dam, irrigates 47,000 acres. The loss of electricity generated by the dams would increase the cost of pumping groundwater.
Farmers are worried about being “at the mercy of railroads” and skeptical about switching to crops that use less water.
Certain environmental groups have been proposing for years that the dams be dismantled. Supporters say breaching the dams is necessary to save endangered salmon and other fish species in the Snake River Basin. They dispute the feared impacts on farmers and minimize the value of the energy produced by the dams.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has long supported removing the dams. Most recently Inslee has touted removing the dams as a way to bolster the orca population in Puget Sound. Scientists blame a declining orca population on a lack of chinook salmon for the killer whales to eat.
Gov. Brown has come late to the fray.
In her letter of support to Inslee, Brown said it is clear the “most certain and robust solution to Snake River salmon and steelhead recovery” is removing the dams. “No other action has the potential to improve overall survival two-to-three fold,” she said.
Why now? We can only guess.
Brown, a Democrat, took office in 2015 when then-Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned. She won a special election in 2016 to fill Kitzhaber’s unfinished term and was re-elected in 2018. Term limits prevent her from running again in 2022.
We have heard she has further ambitions, either in Congress or in a cabinet role.
What is better than supporting the breaching of dams in someone else’s state? No matter what happens to the four dams in Washington, there’s no direct political blowback on an Oregon politician. But that doesn’t mean Brown can’t burnish her bona fides with environmental groups that might be useful in future campaigns.
Now many of the people who support breaching the Snake River dams also support breaching the big dams on the lower Columbia. That would have big impacts on Oregonians. The governor has been silent on the issue.
We are reminded of the old fable about the relative roles chickens and pigs play in producing a ham-and-egg breakfast. The pig gives his life, and thus is committed, while the chicken’s involvement is free of risk.
Let’s hope Brown never goes whole hog for dam removal.