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Biden’s ‘Secret Dam Deal’ Comes Under the Spotlight

House Committee Investigates Secret Dam Deal

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The House Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries is investigating a confidentially negotiated agreement concerning the future of hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest, focusing on the Lower Snake River dams. Witnesses assert that this undisclosed deal could have severe economic and social repercussions.

Biden Administration’s Absence

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Notably, the Biden administration officials declined to appear for the congressional oversight hearing regarding the leaked draft of the proposed settlement for salmon and dams in the Columbia River basin. The committee sought answers from government officials about the undisclosed agreement, which has been shrouded in secrecy for the past six months.

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Witnesses Speak Out

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During the December 12 hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony from various stakeholders, including conservation groups and representatives from public power, agriculture, and transportation interests. These witnesses presented arguments for and against the potential breaching of the Lower Snake River dams to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead trout in the Snake River.


Economic Impact of Dam Breaching

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Witnesses at the hearing highlighted how removing or breaching these dams would affect consumer electricity rates and farmers who rely on the dams for irrigation and transportation of agricultural exports. The economic consequences of such actions are a concern raised by Republicans.

Constitutionality Debate

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Republicans argue that removing hydroelectric dams in Washington without an act of Congress would violate the Constitution. They also contend that this unilateral action would have disastrous social and economic effects on the Pacific Northwest region.

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Democratic Perspective

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On the other hand, Democrats assert that the leaked documents related to the settlement may be outdated and emerged from closed-door discussions stemming from over two decades of litigation. Closed-door mediations, they argue, are customary in such negotiations.


Secrecy Concerns

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Scott Simms of the Public Power Council expressed concerns about the agreement’s secrecy and the lack of transparency in the decision-making process. He underscored that a deal made in secret could have profound implications for the region.

Agreement Details

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The tentative agreement, expected to be finalized and made public on December 15, involves potential modifications to the Lower Snake River dams’ power generation and river commerce capacities. The agreement also outlines plans to develop renewable energy resources to replace any power deficit resulting from dam removal.

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Tribal Interests

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The proposed deal aims to benefit Columbia River tribes, including the Nez Perce, by assisting them in developing renewable energy resources. These tribes have treaty-reserved fishing rights and have been adversely affected by declining salmon runs due to dam construction.


Legal Background

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Chairman Cliff Bentz opened the hearing by providing context regarding the ongoing debate surrounding the dams. He mentioned the issuance of a biological opinion in 2020, which concluded that the dams were not likely to jeopardize the existence of various fish species.

However, subsequent legal challenges and policy shifts have complicated the situation.

Backroom Collusion Allegations

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Rep. Bentz expressed concerns about backroom negotiations, closed to the public, that have yet to take place without the involvement of key stakeholders. He criticized the lack of transparency and the potential consequences of this secretive approach.

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Uncertain Future

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As the debate continued, witnesses focused on the economic impacts of dam breaching, emphasizing the importance of these dams for hydropower, transportation, and irrigation. They raised concerns about the reliability of alternatives and the potential for increased litigation.

Divided Opinions

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Witnesses disagreed on the path forward, with some advocating for dam breaching to restore fish populations and modernize the power generation system. In contrast, others expressed concerns about the economic impact on ratepayers and grid reliability.

Moving Forward

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The discussion surrounding the future of the Lower Snake River dams remains complex and contentious, with no clear resolution in sight. The decisions will have far-reaching consequences for the Pacific Northwest, and the debate continues among policymakers, stakeholders, and the public.

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