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Rep. Simpson defends plan to breach Snake River dams, says rising costs could close them down regardless

"My concept is an attempt to recognize the value and benefits of the dams and to replace them. Not to roll the dice and see what someone else comes up with for us."
Credit: AP Photo/Nicholas K. Geranios
FILE - In this April 11, 2018 file photo, water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Wash. Farmers, environmentalists, tribal leaders and public utility officials are eagerly awaiting a federal report that could decide the fate of four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson defended his $33.5 billion plan to breach four dams on the Snake River on Friday, stating that his plan is meant to avoid other situations where dams were forced to be breached after shutting down due to growing operating costs.

"The concept I have developed is the product of our effort at unwinding the complicated fabric of the economic and societal benefits of the four Lower Snake River dams," he said in a statement.

Rep. Simpson explained that the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is spending more than $600 million per year on "fish costs" and a spillway that was required by a judge "are both strangling BPA and increasing year over year."

He calls the plan "The Northwest in Transition." The most immediate action includes removing the four dams on the Lower Snake River: 

  • Lower Granite Dam
  • Little Goose Dam
  • Lower Monumental Dam
  • Ice Harbor Dam

As the top Republican on the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee, Simpson has seen the growing costs of BPA and the rising prices for customers over the years.

He pointed to an example of government entities making dams "so expensive that it no longer makes sense for them to continue to operate" with the Klamath Basin irrigators. Congress didn't finalize a deal between the irrigators and the Endangered Species Act and a decade later, according to Simpson, four dams on the Klamath River are being breached.

"The stakeholders never received a "deal." This is a situation I am trying to avoid," he said. "My concept is an attempt to recognize the value and benefits of the dams and to replace them. Not to roll the dice and see what someone else comes up with for us."

He added that he doesn't "see an end in sight to the litigation surrounding those dams."

"I am convinced that at a certain point in the future, the decision will no longer be ours," he stated. "This is my attempt at writing our own future where the endless battles end but there are no winners or losers.  I am willing to put my career on the line for the right plan."

Simpson also said he is willing to put his career on the line for the right plan and wouldn't pursue a plan that didn't protect all parties involved.

In his plan, $16 billion would go towards replacing the dams with clean energy sources that are better for migrating salmon that call the river home. Idaho salmon runs have dwindled from millions of wild fish to only a few thousand some years. 

Another $4.6 billion would be allocated for improving water quality and $1.85 billion to help industries that would be impacted by the dams being breached.

"I am asking stakeholders to seriously look at the plan," Simpson said. "Is this something you can work with?  Is the uncertainty of the future worth the risk of trying today? I hope so." 

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