OLYMPIA – Despite objections from two members of Congress and others, Washington will spend $750,000 in the coming year to study the possible effects of breaching four federal dams on the Snake River to improve salmon runs.
Gov. Jay Inslee ignored a request Tuesday from U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse to use his line-item veto to snip the study from the state’s $52.4 billion operating budget.
“This study is a waste of state taxpayer dollars,” the two Eastern Washington Republicans said in a joint statement released a few hours before the bill was scheduled to be signed, repeating criticism they’d leveled months ago. Earlier in the month, Republican legislators, as well as business groups, utilities and ports also called for a veto of that section of the budget.
The dams are federally owned and operated, McMorris Rodgers and Newhouse noted, adding they would continue to defend the dams from “misguided, state-led dam breaching efforts.”
“Instead of studying the removal of our federal dams, these state dollars could have been used to fund salmon recovery programs that directly aid endangered salmon species,” they said.
All of the requests for the veto seemed to ignore the fact that Inslee had called for such a study in his initial budget proposed in December at the recommendation of his Orca Task Force, which is looking for ways to increase the number of Chinook salmon, a key food source for the declining population of killer whales.
At the time, Inslee said the study would help prepare the state’s response to an environmental impact statement on salmon recovery ordered by a federal judge and look at the costs and benefits of different alternatives, not just dam removal. It would also consider how carbon-free power could be developed to replace the dams, which provide such energy, if they were removed.
The budget Inslee signed has more than $15 million for salmon restoration.
Environmental and commercial fishing groups hailed the inclusion of the study in the operating budget. Elected officials have avoided difficult decisions about the Snake River dams for decades, Robb Krehbiel, of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a news release after the Legislature passed the spending plan on the final day of the legislative session.
The study isn’t about whether to to breach the dams, which is a federal decision, David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff, said after the governor had finished signing the remaining bills from the 2019 legislative session.
“It’s wrong to view this as an anti-dam study,” Postman said. “It’s an opportunity for people on all sides of the issue to talk about the pluses and minuses of maintaining the system.”
Although questions of whether to remove the dams tend to divide the state, there are many sides to the issue, Postman said. People who oppose dam removal shouldn’t worry about sitting down with people on the other side to express their opinions, he added.
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