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Sun., Aug. 19, 2012

‘The Worst Dam Bill’

Congressman Doc Hastings in Washington’s 4th District is known for his misguided positions on fisheries and conservation. But his recently introduced “Protecting our Dam and New Hydropower and Jobs Act,” H.R. 6247, has been quickly dubbed by fishermen “The Worst Dam Bill in History.” Last Wednesday, Hastings held a field hearing on this radical piece of legislation in Pasco.

Though Hastings, who serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, presents this bill as a job creator, the reality is a world away. This bill would increase energy costs for consumers, make regional salmon restoration even more costly and elusive and strike yet another blow to fishing family jobs and river towns across the Northwest, from Astoria, Ore., to Riggins, Idaho.

Despite Mr. Hastings’ assertions, this bill would destroy jobs, weaken the economy and harm the environment.

Among its many provisions, the bill would prohibit federal money for any dam removal or the study of dam removal without explicit authorization from Congress and prohibits federal funds to sport, recreation and conservation groups to implement habitat restoration projects associated with dam removal. It also allows spill provisions to aid fish migration to be ignored, and would eliminate important renewable energy and efficiency programs. This bill would hamstring collaborative restoration projects led by landowners, fishermen and conservationists across the country.

If passed into law, Mr. Hastings’ bill would lock in last century’s energy priorities at a time when our real future involves modernizing our energy infrastructure and managing our natural resources, including salmon fisheries, in a holistic and integrated fashion. The bill would impose the heavy hand of the federal government with a one-size-fits-all policy, creating obstacles to job-creating innovations for the energy industry, and it would block communities from doing necessary restoration work after unsafe or obsolete dams are removed to ensure land is restored and local people are taking advantage of the economic and recreational benefits such restorations always bring.

While local towns and elected leaders today celebrate river restoration projects that are creating jobs and restoring valuable natural resources, Hastings’ bill would make these success stories far less likely to occur. Coast to coast, restoration projects on important rivers are giving salmon and people new cause for pride and hope. The Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River, southwest Washington’s White Salmon River, and the Penobscot River in Maine are all restoration success stories, crafted by local business, sports, recreation and conservation groups, farmers, landowners and citizens working together to find common ground, resolve differences and develop solutions that work for everyone.

In the Northwest, where salmon and dams both depend on rivers, 21st century solutions for our fisheries and energy problems are inseparable.  But this bill discourages, and perhaps even prohibits, this type of thinking. 

Preventing federal funding for important energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, the bill simultaneously jeopardizes the hard-fought and proven effective spill measures at the Columbia and Snake River dams that are delivering higher salmon returns. Spill is the single most important measure in place now to restore salmon and protect the salmon economy. The truth is that this bill would turn back the clock on salmon recovery and energy policy by about 60 years.

People should demand more from the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee than proposing damaging legislation so out of touch with the wishes of Northwest people. Recreational and commercial fishing industries account for billions in the Northwest economy alone. Why would Congressman Hastings risk so much? 

Glen Spain is the northwest regional director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. Buzz Ramsey is the owner of Yakima Bait Company.

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