The four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River in Southeast Washington might seem far removed — geographically and in other ways — from Baker County. But the future of those dams could have a direct effect on our monthly power bills.

And unfortunately, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s recent decision to have our state file a federal lawsuit challenging the existence of those dams has the potential to make electricity more expensive, less reliable and dirtier.

The lawsuit, filed March 4, contests the findings in an environmental study the federal government released in October 2020. One of its key conclusions is that removing the four dams — Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor — is not necessary to help struggling populations of endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead. Moreover, the environmental impact statement found that breaching those dams, which can produce more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable power, could result in higher power rates and an increase in carbon emissions.

That’s a significant concern for Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative, said Joseph Hathaway, OTEC’s communications manager. OTEC buys its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power produced by federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Brown’s decision to legally challenge the federal government’s support for keeping the four dams is troubling because in October 2020 the governor joined her counterparts in Idaho, Washington and Montana to form the Columbia Basin Collaborative, with a goal of restoring salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia and Snake River systems while miminizing the effect on the electricity grid and the regional economy.

Oregon also has supported a previous plan that included spilling more water through the dams during spring to improve survival rates in salmon and steelhead migrating to the Pacific Ocean. That plan is included in the October 2020 federal decision that is the target of the lawsuit Oregon filed March 4.

The governor’s actions are inconsistent.

Oregon can’t reasonably participate in a four-state collaborative designed to help salmon and steelhead, while keeping the dams and protecting the electricity grid and the economy, and simultaneously be a plaintiff in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the current federal dam operation plan.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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