Only the government can manage to cram a few months of work into a ten-year timeline. And while it’s quite certain that salmon will outlive the current administration, that hasn’t stopped officials from making it a race to the finish. The “new” Obama plan for endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon is essentially the same as the Bush plan previously rejected by Judge Redden. The Administration, after months of review, has crafted a bureaucratic plan with one goal: kicking the can down the road.
At the heart of this issue is breaching the Snake River dams, which would allow endangered salmon access to thousands of miles of pristine mountain spawning habitat. What’s the trade off? The four lower Snake River dams do not store water and therefore inefficiently generate a limited amount of power in the spring runoff, when energy demand is the lowest. In the energy world this is known as non-baseload power–as it’s either unused (all the hydro-power in the region peaks during this time), or sold to California should a heat-wave coincide with spring flows.
The real reason the Snake River dams remain is because of the untouchable nature of dams in the Northwest. While the dams were built with the idea of an inland shipping port to move wheat down the Snake and Columbia to worldwide markets, their construction has pushed salmon to the brink. Agencies have even gone so far as to truck and barge salmon smolts downriver to take blame off the dams. You know things are backwards when our fish migrate in trucks and our grain is shipped via broken rivers.
The Administration’s voo-doo salmon economics are deja-vu political rhetoric. How do thy define salmon “Trending Towards Recovery”? Simply put—one more fish returned than the previous year. How do they define “Significant Decline”? Of course that’s more complicated–the “Trending Towards Recovery” standard is a benchmark that the Obama plan uses to define whether the mitigating actions are indeed meeting the jeopardy standard (words taken from an unpublished 9th circuit case defining jeopardy under the ESA). The benchmarks that were in the 2008 Bush plan for determining jeopardy are still included. They’ve given it a good polish, but basically, nothing has changed from the rejected Bush plan in this regard.
So, here’s the deal: As the salmon disappear, this is the recovery process we can expect to see (essentially more than eight years after a “Significant Decline Trigger” has been reached):
- A “Significant Decline Trigger” must be tripped.
- That requires that a “Rapid Response Action” is put into place—this must happen within twelve months.
- At the same time as the “Rapid Response Action” determination, the agencies will initiate an “All-H Diagnosis”—this must be completed within four-to-six months and will determine whether “Long-term Contingency Actions” (other than dam removal) are necessary.
- If “Significant Decline Trigger” is exceeded for Snake River species and the “All-H Diagnosis” says dam removal is necessary, the Corps will study dam breaching tech issues–getting two years to complete the analysis.
- If Corps studies point to breaching, the Administration will decide whether to move forward with NEPA & overall evaluation study—this will be decided within two years after the completion of the studies.
- If Administration decides to breach, the Corps will initiate NEPA (i.e., considerably more studies)—this will take two-to-three years.
- If NEPA studies point to breaching, the Corps will begin to seek authority from Congress.
- If Congress tells it to breach, the Corps will begin to seek permits.
- If permits are granted, the Corps will begin taking actions to breach.
Let’s hope Judge Redden forces the Obama Administration back to the drawing board.