As a Union County commissioner, farmer, rancher and lifelong Oregonian, I understand the importance of working together to meet the needs of those I serve. That’s why I was so frustrated that Gov. Kate Brown recently filed a lawsuit over how the federal government manages the operations of the hydropower system.
What makes the governor’s action even more surprising is it came just a week after the first meeting of the Columbia Basin Collaborative, an effort Gov. Brown herself convened with the governors of Washington, Idaho and Montana to protect both salmon runs and economic interests through dialogue. When stakeholders come together in good faith, real progress can be made. Unfortunately, Gov. Brown has chosen litigation over collaboration.
We are blessed here in Oregon with unparalleled natural beauty and economically valuable resources. The federal hydropower system, which includes the four Snake River dams, provides 95% of the reliable, affordable electricity used in rural Oregon. The power benefits of the Snake River dams are shared by more than 1 million Oregonians. According to a three-year study conducted by federal agencies last year, breaching the dams could increase energy costs in rural Oregon by as much as 50%. That’s something we can ill afford in Union County, where our median household income is $45,564 a year, well below the state average of $63,426.
This lower income means the average Union County resident spends nearly a third of their monthly income on housing, and a full 16% of our community struggles to purchase enough food for themselves and their families. We can’t afford to see our electricity rates climb higher.
Like Oregonians across the state, residents of Union County care about the environment. The hydropower generated by the Snake River dams is a carbon-free, renewable source of energy, and there are no good alternatives for replacement. Federal agencies estimate that replacing the lost hydropower would require more fossil fuels, resulting in a net increase of roughly 3.3 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually — the equivalent of 712,944 additional passenger vehicles on the region’s roads. At a time when the state is setting goals to reduce carbon emissions, this would be a devastating step backward. Wind and solar are good, renewable sources of electricity, but they don’t have enough generating capacity to make up the hydropower we would lose from the Snake River dams.
The dams were also put in because of flooding in the spring and low water in the late summer. This is not good for fish, agriculture or recreation.
Pursuing legal action while at the same time working with the Columbia Basin Collaborative is hypocritical and harmful to those who are counting on the CBC to engage with stakeholders in good faith. In order for the CBC to be successful, I urge the governor to withdraw her lawsuit and find common ground to develop a long-term strategy for dam operations. Rural Oregonians are counting on her.
Donna Beverage is a Union County commissioner and lives in Union.