Clean energy plans must not forget endangered salmon

Sara Patton /


Published Nov 11, 2012 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s call — echoed by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden — for a process to settle the debate over the Columbia River Basin salmon recovery is a welcome development. The governor, who recently released a draft 10-year energy plan for the state, knows that developing our clean energy economy goes hand in hand with saving the region’s iconic wild salmon.

The Northwest is blessed with ample, affordable energy efficiency and renewable energy resources to meet power needs at the same time we fulfill our climate responsibilities and take some river water back from hydroelectric turbines and give it back to endangered salmon. Reviving our salmon economy, meanwhile, will create thousands of local, family-wage jobs.

Kitzhaber and Wyden’s endorsement of a solutions process for Columbia and Snake River salmon helps pave the way for multi-stakeholder negotiations to resolve that dispute. Years of litigation have been successful, but only in staving off extinction. Real success, as the governor notes, requires bringing diverse parties together to forge a common course. Get all communities that depend on the river at the table: government agencies, fishermen, farmers, tribes, utilities, environmentalists and clean energy groups. These are the parties who can figure out what works best for the fish and for all river users.

That’s Wyden’s point. “Time and time again we’ve seen that good things happen when folks agree to meet face-to-face and tackle the tough issues facing Oregon,” Oregon’s senior senator says in his statement. “I’m glad to see that Kitzhaber has taken the initiative and announced his support for a roundtable that will bring together tribes, fishermen, farmers, power customers, conservationists and officials from state and local governments to discuss Northwest salmon issues. This is the kind of collaborative process that the region needs to find a solution to such a thorny issue.”

Restoring salmon habitat will be an important part of that discussion, as will making changes in the way we run the river. Those changes might include removal of the four lower Snake River dams. They might require leaving more water in the river for faster river flow. They might include spilling more water over the dams so migrating salmon can avoid the turbines.

Those seated at the roundtable will consider those and other options and work to find common solutions. That’s the strength of a collaborative approach.

We know that many potential changes in river operations will likely reduce hydropower production somewhat. Luckily, we have plenty of clean and affordable energy at our fingertips to replace that power.

Energy efficiency will be the largest replacement resource. Tapping our huge store of power-saving opportunities saves money and — along with new renewable energy development — cuts climate pollution and enlivens our economy. The Northwest’s official power planning agency has called for meeting almost all new electric needs with energy efficiencies that cost less than any new power source. Doing so, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, will create about 47,000 jobs in all sectors across the region.

It’s time for federal agencies and other decision makers to join Wyden in following the governor’s lead and to embrace effective solutions for clean energy and wild salmon in abundance. Our other members of Congress, other regional governors and the Obama administration need to get the salmon solutions process moving. We can save salmon, we can secure a clean energy future, and we all will benefit from moving forward together.