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Oregon Policies Undermine Hydroelectricity's Value

The operation of the federal hydroelectric system is on the forefront the challenge of providing clean, emission-free, renewable energy while taking action to help restore the region’s salmon and steelhead runs. Unfortunately, when it comes to balancing the needs of all these invaluable Northwest resources, the State of Oregon takes a different position than Washington, Idaho, and Montana, several Native American tribes. Oregon, along with one tribe, national and local anti-dam groups, recreation and commercial fishing interests, and outdoor businesses continue to work against the other states’ collaborative approach in the courts and through federal resource management processes.

Oregon’s contrarian position started years ago when it, along with other litigants, sued over a 2004 salmon restoration plan called a Biological Opinion. It has continued its litigious ways since. Most recently it challenged a 2014 Biological Opinion developed by federal agencies in collaboration with the other three Northwest states and several tribes. This plan was vetted by the Obama Administration’s top scientists who supported its measures and hydro system operations.

The most contentious issue is Oregon’s and its fellow plaintiffs’ position that the amount of water spilled through the gates rather than through the generating turbines to help young fish move downstream would be increased to levels above those in the Biological Opinion. Oregon and its fellow plaintiffs prevailed recently in federal court and the increased spill began April 3, 2018, and will run through mid-June. This reduces electricity production in order to provide more water to move young migrating fish downstream. The benefit of this action to fish is arguable and may even be harmful to the species. The power that will now need to be produced to make up for the lost hydropower will come from natural-gas-fired power plants, producing an estimated 840,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to adding 179,000 additional gasoline-power cars to the region’s highways. This runs contrary to Oregon’s carbon reduction goals and also will create $40 million in higher electricity costs for Oregon’s residents who depend on the hydroelectric plants’ production. The net result is little to no benefits for salmon and significant increases in carbon emissions and electricity consumers’ costs.

Oregon’s cooperatives will continue to challenge the State of Oregon on its position and work to move the state toward a more collaborative stance. Through your membership in ORECA-Action network, you become a valuable ally in our efforts to bring better balance to the management of this important issue.