Misleading column aims to harm salmon recovery momentum

On July 2, The Seattle Times published guest opinions by two men arguing for and against removal of the lower Snake River dams, four structures that continue to waste billions while killing endangered wild salmon. The opinion piece calling for dam removal was well informed. The column supporting the status quo, however, was a con job unfit for publication in any self-respecting newspaper, much less a publication with a prestigious history like the Times.

The well-informed piece was written by Jim Waddell, a retired engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Waddell has a solid grasp on an array of facts including energy production, cost of dam maintenance, and potential recreational revenues that are lost under the status quo. Waddell also makes his frustration with the federal agencies clear. He doesn’t believe any process undertaken by the Corps, NOAA Fisheries or Bonneville Power Administration can be done honestly or transparently.

The second guest opinion is misleading and lacks integrity. Penned by Todd Myers, director for the “Center for the Environment” at the Washington Policy Center, an independent policy research organization, the second opinion centers on the idea that the lower Snake River dams balance the electrical load for the Pacific Northwest and therefore make renewable energy like wind and solar possible.

While some dams do help balance load, the lower Snake dams aren’t among them.

The four lower Snake River dams were congressionally authorized and built to make Lewiston, Idaho into a seaport. Hydropower generation was added to the structures’ designs as an afterthought in an attempt to get to a positive economic benefit-to-cost ratio. 

There are two qualities a dam needs in order to help balance load across a grid: water storage and additional power generating capacity. The lower Snake dams are run-of-river dams, meaning they have very limited storage capacity and need to pass river flows in real time instead of storing the water for later power generation. Additionally, the generational capacity of the lower Snake dams is a fraction of the Northwest power supply and is easily dwarfed by the generation of other dams in the region. Any balancing generation from the lower Snake dams would be very limited in quantity and duration.

Myers is singing from a tired old hymnal using fear to pull people away from imagining a better future filled with abundant, clean energy and wild salmon. He is part of a conservative echo chamber that has been using fear to encourage people to embrace the failed policies of the past to perpetuate the unhealthy practices of the present.

A recent economic analysis concluded that, for every taxpayer dollar spent to prop-up the lower Snake River dams, 15 cents is returned as a public value. This is the status quo that Myers is struggling to justify.

In August 2011, Spokane’s The Spokesman Review wrote that Myers has ties to Koch Brothers, Heartland Institute and other conservative stalwarts. “Why not just call it the Washington Fallacy Center?” the author wrote.

It is distressing that people like Myers hide behind misleading titles while pushing their tax and spend agendas that support government waste and devastate natural resources.