Biden Administration Commits to Supporting Regional and Tribal Efforts
President Joe Biden’s administration has made a groundbreaking move to restore wild salmon in the Columbia River System. Federal agencies, under President Biden’s direction, are actively supporting regional and tribal efforts to protect and revive the salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. This is the first time such a comprehensive effort has been undertaken.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair, Brenda Mallory, stated, “President Biden understands that the Columbia River System is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest… [the agreement] charts a new path to restore the river.” The agreement has garnered support from environmental activists, Democrats, and tribes, who have long argued that the presence of four federally-managed dams on the lower Snake River has decimated salmon and steelhead populations.
A New Direction for the Pacific Northwest
The historic agreement, hailed as a new direction for the Pacific Northwest, involves collaboration between the Biden-Harris Administration, state and tribal governments, and various stakeholders. The White House clean energy czar, John Podesta, emphasized the administration’s commitment to protecting salmon and other native fish, honoring obligations to tribal nations, and recognizing the economic value of the Columbia River System.
Democratic Governors Tina Kotek of Oregon and several involved tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, along with environmental groups like Earthjustice, have applauded the agreement as an unprecedented path forward.
Funding and Restoration
The agreement includes a $1 billion allocation for wild fish restoration and a comprehensive plan to improve the management of dams operated by tribes. It also establishes the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, which outlines a comprehensive roadmap for salmon recovery. Notably, the initiative recommends the potential breaching of the lower Snake River dams within two fish generations, or approximately eight years.
While the agreement does not explicitly outline a plan for dam breaching, it does commit to replacing the services provided by the dams. However, the removal of the dams would require congressional approval, a fact emphasized by Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, who stated, “Congress — and Congress alone — can authorize removal of the dams… I will continue to fight any breaching efforts.”
Concerns and Implications
Opponents of dam breaching, including Republican lawmakers, power industry groups, and various businesses dependent on the dams, have raised concerns about the potential consequences. The dams currently contribute to clean energy production, providing about 8% of the state’s electricity. Additionally, they facilitate barge transportation along the Columbia River system, supporting a significant portion of Washington’s wheat exports and the nation’s total wheat production.
Removing the dams would have implications for U.S. climate goals, as their energy production would likely need to be replaced by fossil fuel alternatives. Moreover, it could impact the region’s economy and transportation sector. However, proponents argue that restoring wild salmon populations and honoring tribal commitments are of paramount importance.
The agreement represents a milestone in the ongoing efforts to restore the Columbia River System and protect the environment while navigating the complexities of stakeholder interests and clean energy goals.