The following editorial was originally published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
An effort to push breaching of the four Snake River dams is being cloaked as a “study.” It’s essentially propaganda. And it’s gotten U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse a bit worked up — and for good reason.
“This privately funded study is a slap in the face of our state’s agricultural economy,” McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, and Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, said in a joint statement. “It is another example of Seattle-based interests failing to understand our way of life in Central and Eastern Washington.”
The study was done by ECONorthwest for another Seattle-based company, Vulcan Inc., which oversees the business and philanthropic interests of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, according to The Tri-City Herald.
The geographic location of the study group is perhaps a political concern, but the real concern should be that it is flawed.
The study concedes economic costs to dam breaching due to lost barge transportation and lost hydropower generation of electricity, but it concludes that public benefits justify removing the four dams.
That seems to be based more on this group’s unrealistic view that removing the dams will magically eliminate the extinction risk for threatened and endangered fish stocks.
Now, to be clear, the study and its backers don’t use those words. Instead, they contend breaching would “reduce the extinction risk” while not creating economic havoc.
The Tri-City Herald reports that this study found households were willing to pay about $40 more a year for electricity to help protect wild salmon. But the study went on to say that the higher rates could be offset by potential “nonuse ” or noneconomic value to the public of removing the dams at $10.97 billion, according to the Herald.
“Increases in carbon emissions, higher electricity bills and billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements that would be needed for irrigation and transportation hardly come across as ‘public benefit,’ ” Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers said.
That seems to be an understatement. Jeff Shawver, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, went further.
“Nonuse, which guesstimates the public’s willingness to pay, is a pie-in-the sky, made-up number economists use when all else fails,” Shawver said.
We strongly favor efforts to improve salmon runs. Doing so, however, should be based on good science and economic realities.
Previous, data-driven studies made clear that dam breaching would cause more harm than good.
For example, a 2001 study by the U.S. Army Corps concluded that breaching four Snake River dams would increase the chances of salmon restoration only slightly — if at all — while significantly hurting the Pacific Northwest’s economy.
As we’ve written in the past, but it’s worth repeating as the quest for dam breaching continues, the Snake and Columbia river dams still serve a critical purpose that benefits us all, and they must remain.