Biden Administration’s Unveiled $1B+ Proposal for Snake Dam Breaching Plan Emerges

The Biden administration and proponents of dismantling the lower Snake River dams have negotiated a draft agreement, which, although not publicly disclosed, was obtained by the Tri-City Herald.

The proposed plan, developed in collaboration with four tribes, Washington, and Oregon, outlines an expenditure exceeding $1 billion for preparations related to breaching the hydroelectric dams and enhancing fish populations.

While the agreement falls short of a federal decision to remove the dams, it affirms the U.S. government’s commitment to exploring the restoration of the lower Snake River, including dam breach. The negotiations have drawn criticism for excluding key stakeholders, such as electric ratepayers, from discussions regarding changes to the hydroelectric system along the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Representative Dan Newhouse and other lawmakers emphasized that Congress holds exclusive authority over decisions regarding Snake dams, as well as directing studies on their removal or authorizing replacement resources. The proposed agreement is part of a federal lawsuit currently on hold until December 15, allowing plaintiffs to discuss the draft agreement and potential next steps with select tribes and litigation parties.

The 34-page agreement, negotiated by the Biden administration’s Council on Environmental Quality, cites a 2022 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, emphasizing the hydrosystem as a primary obstacle to salmon and steelhead recovery in the Columbia River Basin. The agreement quotes the NOAA report, advocating for dam removal based on the science that supports immediate action.

Opposition from Northwest RiverPartners, which contends that climate change poses a greater threat to salmon survival, is highlighted.

The draft agreement allocates funds for various purposes, including identifying energy resource solutions, supporting clean energy projects for tribes, and studying replacements for services facilitated by the dams. It also addresses broader initiatives in the Columbia River Basin, such as salmon reintroduction and improvements for native fish and shellfish.

Key provisions involve spending by the Department of Energy for tribal clean energy projects, the consideration of tribal energy purchases by the Bonneville Power Administration, and a comprehensive plan for the mid Columbia River, with potential costs reaching $200 million annually. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency is set to provide $85 million to assess and reduce toxins in the basin, and NOAA will allocate $60 million for salmon hatchery infrastructure. The Bonneville Power Authority plans to increase spending on fish and wildlife programs and empower tribes and states with authority over $100 million over a decade, along with initiating a pilot program for grants and multi-year agreements.


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