Conservationists filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco yesterday challenging the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Sixth Power Plan.
While the power plan accurately calculates that the Northwest can meets its power needs with conservation and renewable energy, it perpetuates the myth that protecting salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers is too costly. The plan illegally inflates the cost of salmon mitigation and restoration and ignores the significant environmental and economic benefits associated with increased salmon and steelhead returns.
"Overstating the costs and ignoring the benefits of measures to protect salmon violates the Northwest Power Act and has a chilling effect on taking the more aggressive actions needed to assure that salmon will remain a part of the Northwest's heritage," said Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda.
Five years of larger salmon runs have led to a bumper year for salmon-related businesses on the Columbia River. This year thousands of anglers, hoping to catch a salmon will spend millions of dollars in pursuit of what many consider nature's greatest gift in the Northwest.
The challenged power plan fails to acknowledge any of this economic value from the salmon fishery. It compounds that error by using a highly flawed calculation that says any water released downstream to assist in the migration of salmon equals power "lost" to dam operations and is therefore an economic loss. The amount of that "loss" is then assessed based on higher wholesale power market rates, not the lower rates that Bonneville Power Administration charges its customers. By adopting that methodology in the Plan, the Council has fed the myth that actions to protect salmon – from the beneficial water releases that have helped produce the increased fishing opportunities we see today, to measures needed to restore salmon to abundance, like lower Snake River dam removal – simply cost too much.
Earthjustice filed the case on behalf of the Northwest Resource Information Center of Eagle Idaho to force the Council to acknowledge the benefits of salmon restoration.