Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers Seek To Boost Hydropower After Idaho Rep's Dam Removal Idea

Mar 5, 2021

Two eastern Washington members of Congress are promoting hydropower as a mainstay in the future of clean energy. The bill they’re sponsoring would expand hydro across the country. It’s the opposite approach of an Idaho congressman who would like to remove dams on the Lower Snake.

Republicans Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers have long championed dams. This is their second go at passing legislation that would reclassify hydropower as a renewable energy source. That’s important, Newhouse says, because hydropower can generate energy when wind and solar farms might be offline.

“In order to address climate change, we must prioritize the continued development of hydropower resources and promote free-market technological innovation,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement.

This bill would push for improved technology at dams. Like the more fish-friendly turbines recently installed at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River.

“We’re working hard to demonstrate, convince and prove that dams and fish can coexist,” Newhouse told Northwest Public Broadcasting.

Hydropower groups support the legislation, noting that it also will develop new hydropower facilities on dams that don’t currently generate power.

“Recent experiences in Texas and California highlight that a clean energy future means having the right carbon-free renewable resources in place that provide critical flexibility, reliability and resiliency to a decarbonized grid, which is at the core of hydropower’s strength,” said Malcolm Woolf, President and CEO of the National Hydropower Association, in a statement.

Salmon advocates say not all dams “are created equally,” that all dams aren’t bad and neither are they all good. Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, says there needs to be more focus on the outcomes of dams. 

“Let’s have informed conversations that look at maximizing a set of benefits, values and priorities across our region – frankly, across our nation – and not get too entrenched around ideologies.”

On the Snake River, that means breaching four of the structures. He says keeping them in place will cause wild Snake River salmon to go extinct if they stay in place.

It’s a plan Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson previously addressed, saying the dams need to come out, while other investments need to be made in infrastructure.

Simpson recently pitched a sweeping $33.5 billion plan that would breach the four dams on the Lower Snake in Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers’ eastern Washington districts. The plan would pay to rework the transportation, energy and irrigation benefits the dams once provided.

“We can create a Northwest solution that ends the salmon wars and puts the Northwest and our energy systems on a certain, secure and viable path for decades and restores Idaho salmon,” Simpson said in a video announcement last month.

Courtney Flatt covers environmental and natural resource issues for Northwest Public Broadcasting. She is based in Washington's Tri-Cities. On Twiter: @courtneyflatt  Copyright 2020 Northwest Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit nwpb.org