The House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to question five top federal officials on Tuesday morning over the Biden administration’s closed-door deal with environmental groups seeking to breach, or tear down, hydroelectric dams in Washington.
The panel’s hearing — titled “Exposing President Biden’s Plan to Dismantle the Snake River Dams and the Negative Impacts to the United States” — will include testimony from White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory and top officials from the Department of Energy, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration.
Republicans are holding the hearing to examine the Biden administration’s actions targeting four federally operated dams located on Washington’s Snake River, which winds through Idaho and Washington before feeding into the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. It comes a month after the White House entered into a legal settlement with eco groups and tribes to study breaching, potentially paving the way for future breaching.
“What’s worse is that despite my repeated calls for transparency, the White House actively and deliberately left out the voices of those who depend on the river system most. Dozens of stakeholders and utility companies practically begged to be heard in this process … only to be turned away, shut out, and ignored,” Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., will say during her opening remarks, which were shared in advance with Fox News Digital.
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House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)
“I’m sure our witnesses will say they spoke to everyone, but they’re not being honest. I have heard from many who the administration didn’t talk to, and I will be submitting letters from them for the record,” she will continue. “This process was never about getting results for endangered salmon. It was a reckless pursuit of an activist agenda … a misguided mission to tear out the dams … with no scientific data to back it up.”
Under last month’s agreement, the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced the tribes and environmental groups, which had sued the federal government in an effort to forcibly breach the dams, agreed to stay their litigation through 2028. The agreement further includes $1 billion for wild fish restoration and a plan to develop new clean energy power operated by tribes.
The White House said the investments agreed to would ensure continued energy reliability, transportation and other services currently guaranteed by the continued operation of the four dams “in the event” that the dams are breached. Officials stopped short of committing to a breach plan as demanded by activists, noting that decision would require congressional approval.
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“President Biden understands that the Columbia River System is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest, and for the first time under his direction, federal agencies are putting all hands on deck to support regional and tribal efforts to restore wild salmon in the region,” Mallory said on Dec. 14 after the agreement was announced.
Environmentalists have argued that the dams on the Snake River have decimated salmon and steelhead populations by blocking natural migratory patterns. But local stakeholders have argued in favor of the dams’ continued operation, pointing to their energy production and how they enable important agriculture transportation.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam is shown in the Columbia River system in Washington state. (Marli Miller/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The dams were built in the 1960s and 1970s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers primarily to ensure the Snake River was passable for such barge transportation. Since then, the main benefit has been their reliable clean energy output, and they still provide about 8% of the state’s electricity, enough to serve millions of residents, and have a large total capacity of 3,000 megawatts.
In addition, aided by the dams, barges traveling along the Columbia River system carry about 60% of Washington’s annual wheat exports and 40% of the nation’s total wheat production.
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As a result, Republicans, energy industry groups and agriculture groups blasted the Biden administration over its agreement last month, saying it paves the way for the dams to be breached. They also blasted the White House for engaging in secret negotiations without public input to reach the agreement.
“Apparently, a few unelected bureaucrats at the White House think they know better than the people whose lives depend on them,” McMorris Rodgers will say in her opening remarks at the hearing Tuesday.
McMorris Rodgers joined Congressional Western Caucus Chair Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Reps. Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore., and Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, last week in introducing the Defending Against Manipulative Negotiators Act, which would prohibit federal funds from allowing or studying the breach or alteration of the Snake River dams.
President Biden previously pledged to work with proponents of breaching the four lower Snake River dams to “bring healthy and abundant salmon runs back.” (Getty Images)
“The Biden Administration has crossed the line with its blatant, hypocritical assault on the Lower Snake River Dams,” said Newhouse said in a statement. “This Administration, since its campaign, claims to advocate for green energy solutions, yet disregards that notion when told to by manipulative environmental activists who do not understand how critical the dams are to the Pacific Northwest and a clean energy future.”
A second panel at the hearing on Tuesday is expected to include testimony from National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson, Washington Grain Commission CEO Casey Chumrau and Pacific Northwest Waterways Association Executive Director Neil Maunu, all of whom have criticized the Biden administration’s actions.
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“The ill-conceived Lower Snake River Dams settlement agreement was brokered in secret, without contributions from electric providers,” Matheson will say in his opening remarks. “As a result, it threatens electric reliability for communities in the Pacific Northwest that rely on hydropower. It also violates the trust these communities put in the federal government.”
“The commitments made by the U.S. government in this document were reached without adequate input from stakeholders who would ultimately be impacted by the decisions,” Maunu will add. “Due to this process’s secrecy, agriculture voices were largely excluded from discussion regarding impacts and commitments for funding and mitigation.”