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Creating certainty, security for Idaho’s grain producers

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Mike Simpson

A few weeks ago, I released a comprehensive concept to resolve the salmon, energy and dam issues that have created tension in the Northwest for decades.  It is meant to provide security for all stakeholders, end lawsuits and give Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead a chance for survival.

My concept includes a provision for breaching the earthen berms adjacent to the four Lower Snake River dams to aid salmon migration.  I recognize that removing the dams is drastic.  They are very valuable assets and I believe the benefits they provide would cost at least $33.5 billion to replace.

I also believe we will be forced by judges to continue to throw billions of dollars at saving endangered salmon and steelhead runs to prevent their extinction — which is not working.

I understand that the idea of removing dams is a non-starter for some producers and agricultural groups.  For many of us in the Northwest, it is in our DNA.

But I would ask producers and their families to answer these two questions:

  1. Do you think environmentalists will continue their lawsuits and appeals to save Idaho’s diminishing salmon runs until they finally take out the dams or make them so expensive that their operations are changed?
  2. If the dams are removed, should farmers and other stakeholders be given the full value of the benefits they receive from the dams?

If you answered yes to either of these two questions, then perhaps you might agree that we in the Northwest should at least discuss my concept.

From day one, I have insisted that if the dams are removed, the benefits stakeholders receive from them must be replaced.  Energy, barging, agriculture and communities must be given significant resources to create their own solutions that would be put in place by 2030, before the dams would be removed.  Producers must have the stability and assurance that current and future generations of farm families can continue providing food for our nation and world.

My concept recognizes that the captive farm shipper issue is very real.  If the dams are breached, barging will be eliminated between Lewiston and the Tri-Cities.  The concept directly addresses this by providing $3.6 billion to the Lower Snake River Corridor shippers and producers up front in 2022, so they can expand and create new low-cost competitive shipping infrastructure before the dams would be breached.

What I want people to see is that we have options to create our own solutions that could build out the transportation infrastructure, provide free shipping or possibly pay producers $1.91 a bushel for each bushel delivered to a barge in Tri-Cities.

It could even increase barging tonnage on the Columbia River by 50% over today, which would be a substantial reduction in transport costs to producers, significantly lower carbon emissions and reduce safety hazards from rail and trucking.  I have a detailed proposal on my website on how this is achievable, for those who are interested.  I welcome your feedback on this critical aspect of the concept.

One of my greatest fears is that a judge or administration will break the status quo for us and hinder or halt barging to Lewiston without warning, leaving our producers and communities with nothing to compensate them for those changes.

Some may remember in the late 80s, there were many timber mill owners and communities who refused to consider drastic reductions in the federal timber supply due to the spotted owl.  When the courts cut off their federal timber, many mills were lost.  We watched as their timber jobs, families and communities were devastated.  They did not get an opportunity to gain certainty and security like I am proposing in my concept.  That is what I am trying to prevent.  I want all stakeholders to have a say in their future—in their children and grandchildren’s futures.

There are still those who will say we cannot allow these four dams to be breached because it will take us down a slippery slope to the removal of other Northwest dams.  My concept locks in all public and private federal dams greater than 5 megawatts for 35 to 50 years.  It also ends all lawsuits against those same dams over the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act for 35 years.  No removal, no lawsuits.

Finally, for those who refuse to even discuss this plan, they should look no further than the Klamath Basin.  After litigation and appeals, those four dams will be removed for salmon recovery by 2024.  However, the stakeholders will not be made whole like those under my concept.

I would encourage you to go to my website and review my concept and the possibilities that it provides for all stakeholders in the Northwest.  I welcome your comments and feedback at (Simpson.concept@mail.house.gov).”

Mike Simpson is a Congressional representative and Republican representing Idaho’s 2nd Congressional district.

About Mike Simpson