As published in the Hermiston Herald, Sept. 1, 2021
Gov. Kate Brown, in a recent op-ed, made the case for urgent action to help salmon and steelhead in defense of her decision to have Oregon litigate over the future of salmon and hydropower and the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams. Her urgency is admirable, but she follows a misguided solution that represents a major step backward in the progress the region has made to date.
It will hurt Oregon’s communities.
Roughly 1 million Oregonians are served by public power utilities, including UEC, that get power from BPA’s hydroelectric and transmission assets, so her actions will be deeply felt.
Oregon’s litigation threatens to greatly diminish the collaborative goals of the communities impacted the most, exposing the region to energy shortfalls and resulting in possible blackouts. Dams can support the regional power grid from blackouts during periods of life-threatening temperatures while supporting the energy transition championed by many Oregonians.
How can energy transition and salmon recovery, expected to have huge implications for the environment, economy and relationships around the region, be accomplished?
The region must all work collaboratively, pulling together for a balanced solution for all stakeholders. We can await technological advances, public sentiment and social awareness or by government regulations and policy. Yet to have our future driven by the courts through litigation on complex issues can have devastating impacts. We must find another path to success.
Oregon’s litigious path is also misguided in another way. Oregon, as co-convenor of the newly formed Columbia Basin Collaborative, undermines the one existing forum that could possibly bring the region together to help address the plight of salmon and move all the region forward. Instead, with Oregon as a litigant, trust in the process has been damaged and confuses Oregon’s real agenda.
Instead of litigation, we urge innovation and collaboration, the only path forward Columbia Basin communities have known from which we have built a vibrant but fragile economy.
The region’s farmers and food processors rely on a sustainable supply of water and stable energy prices — threatened by Oregon’s litigation. When we say the lack of either will devastate this rural economy. it’s not without precedent. In the 1980s, when energy prices spiked, crop prices plummeted and water pulled from the basalt aquifers dried up, farmers faced going broke. The same farmers who feed millions of Oregonians and the world.
Only innovation and collaboration spared our farmers — rapid development of precision irrigation techniques saved 25% of water and energy needs to grow the same crops, technology that Columbia Basin irrigators now help spread around the world.
If the dams are removed through litigation, and rolling blackouts occur and our farmers no longer have adequate supplies of water, it undermines the collaboration we’ve demonstrated over the years. When we raise concerns about litigation or ineffective decisions made in the name of salmon recovery, we truly fear for the region’s way of life.
Gov. Brown, the citizens of the Columbia Basin welcome your offer to sit down and share these proven ways of building a sustainable future for all. The same innovation and collaboration are what we have to offer Oregon and the region to work through the opportunities before us for a successful energy transition and salmon recovery. We just ask: Can we sit down at the same table together?
Robert Echenrode is CEO and general manager of Umatilla Electric, a Hermiston-based cooperative serving electricity to 10,700 members in portions of Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties.
Kurt Miller is executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, a not-for-profit organization representing community-owned utilities, farmers, ports and businesses that support clean energy and low-carbon transportation.