Since 1972, ratepayers of consumer-owned utilities in the Pacific Northwest, including Hood River Electric Cooperative, have spent nearly $16 billion to mitigate fish passage in our rivers. During this time, salmon returns have gone from approximately 500,000 to more than 2.5 million.
In a 2009 review of the science supporting the federal salmon plan, also known as the Biological Opinion (BiOp), Dr. Jane Lubchenco, then-NOAA administrator and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and other independent scientists, concluded: “Overall it was an excellent analysis that used the best available science that was used in an extremely thoughtful way.
The assumptions made were perfectly reasonable and it was done as well as it could have been done.”
Last month’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Simon that the BiOp violated the Endangered Species Act is a huge disappointment and a bitter pill to swallow.
The judge’s decision unwinds years of collaboration among federal agencies, Northwest states, tribes and other stakeholders. The ruling does not provide a path forward for the region, other than redoing the plan’s analysis and conducting an evaluation of alternatives, including dam removal, under the National Environmental Policy Act. The ruling simply creates years more of analysis and expense, which is of little value to the listed species.
“Unfortunately, this court has failed to give deference to the agencies with expertise on the science as called for under the law,” states Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest River Partners, a collaboration of farmers, utilities, ports and businesses. “This BiOp, with its unprecedented collaboration, measures, investment and sound science, was considered a model; if it is not sufficient, that raises a fundamental question of whether the Endangered Species Act is workable at all.”
– John Gerstenberger, Manager