Manager's Notes by Ray Ellis
In many of the past articles, I have written about the upward pressure on Bonneville wholesale rates from various causes. Today I write about one that could be mitigated if we can muster the political will to do so. Here’s a little background.
The Biological Opinion currently in use was created over the past two decades or so by a consortium of States, Tribes, and Federal Agencies. They compiled the best available science to create an action plan for salmon in the Northwest.
This Biological Opinion was approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2008/2010 and supplemented in 2014. It was supported by both the Bush and Obama Administrations and extensively vetted by independent scientists.
The Biological Opinion instructs the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) to mitigate its effect on salmon. Immediately after submission, the State of Oregon, the Nez Pierce Tribe and the environmental community challenged the Biological Opinion.
Recently, in a Federal District Court in Oregon, Judge Simon ruled against the Biological Opinion and FCRPS action plan. He actually ordered the agencies to start all over again and begin a five year National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study that must include the possibility of breaching the four lower Snake Dams.
Besides ruling against the existing proposed Biological Opinion, he ordered that the FCRPS change its normal operations and spill additional water through the entire system as a test to see its effects on fish. This so-called "test" has already been proven to harm fish because it raises the nitrogen content in the river to critical levels. These dangerously high nitrogen levels make it difficult for fish to survive.
The other aspect to the test is the cost involved to Bonneville and its customers. Additional spill causes reduced electrical generation, which results in lost revenue. Bonneville estimates it will lose approximately $40 million per year by spilling water over the dams instead of processing it through the turbines. That lost revenue will have to be collected from the preference customers of Bonneville, of which Lincoln Electric is one.
The reaction to the spill injunction was disbelief at first, turning to outright exasperation. In an attempt to counter this misguided and harmful decision, public power in the Northwest sought to find a short term legislative fix. The product of this effort is HR 3144.
It is a bi-partisan bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would stop the excessive spill measure required by the judge and require the agencies follow the existing proposed Biological Opinion until the NEPA process is complete. While we believe there is enough support in the House to get approval there, the Senate is a different story.
As of this writing we have yet to find a Democratic Senator from the Northwest to help co-sponsor a companion bill in the Senate. We need bi-partisan support to get any bill passed in the senate. I had hoped that our own Senator Tester would be willing to lend his support, but he has refused. He claims he doesn’t want to “legislate a Biological Opinion” even though he knows that HR 3144 is only a short term solution and does not interfere with the overall process.
The fact is the entire Biological Opinion and NEPA process was born out of legislation and needs to be repaired with legislation. We need help from our elected officials to keep our cost of electricity affordable. This will take strong leadership and the will to travel a different path from others in their own party when necessary.
Please contact our elected officials, especially Senator Testor, to request support for HR 3144. It is a common sense approach to a very expensive problem.
With the help of Northwest RiverPartners, we have created a letter template in support of HR 3144 for our members to use. Go to lincolnelectric.coop to download and personalize it. Due to the extensive screening process mail is subject to in Washington, D.C., it is recommended that you email or fax your letter.
For more information on HR 3144 and the FCRPS, please visit nwriverpartners.org.