Official statement from Senator Sam Aanestad 12-2009

Klamath River Dams ˆ Setting the Record Straight

I have become aware that many people in Siskiyou County are getting incomplete information regarding the issue of dam removal on the Klamath River. I write to give you the facts as honestly as I know them.

Earlier this month the Legislature passed an $11 billion water bond that would allocate $250 million for dam removal in the Klamath River watershed. My office has received calls and emails from parties in Siskiyou County concerning this provision, and some have included criticism of me for not somehow stopping its inclusion in the bond ˆ implying that I support dam removal. I‚d like to set a few things straight on this issue.

First and foremost, PacifiCorp is a private utility company that owns and operates the four Klamath dams. They reached a decision to pursue dam removal after a decade of fighting for renewal of their hydroelectric utility license. This license requires both a federal and state approval process, and, frankly, the odds of approval ever happening are about the same as California having a balanced budget this year.

It isn‚t going to happen, for the same reason that spotted owls killed the timber industry. Environmentalists use the regulatory power of laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act to block, harass, and derail any industry that doesn‚t fit their agenda. In this case it is the argument that dams are responsible for declining Klamath fish populations. It was actually the Bush Administration that told PacifiCorp they would have to make major changes to the dams and add fish ladders to gain a utility license renewal.

The price tag for this environmental compliance would be $300 million or more. And even that wouldn‚t be enough to ensure the company could get their license. Environmentalists are dead set on seeing the Klamath River free of any dams, and they have the legal and political power to see it done. Even if the federal government were to support continued operation of the dams (and President Obama wants the dams removed), it is one of Gov. Schwarzenegger‚s top environmental priorities that the dams come down. Environmentalists could have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to force PacifiCorp to dispose of their hydro assets. Or, the State Water Resources Control Board could have declared PacifiCorp in violation of the Clean Water Act. Either regulatory action would be enough to make the dams worthless as an asset to PacifiCorp.

In short, like so many other businesses in this state, PacifiCorp faced a hostile regulatory environment that forced the company to get the best deal they could for their shareholders. Now, I want to be clear that I do not support removing the dams, and I get downright angry when good people and businesses in my district are harassed by political interpretations of environmental laws. If I owned PacifiCorp, I would be inclined to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. But I don‚t own PacifiCorp, and unless you are a shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, neither do you. It simply is not my role as a legislator to tell a private company (or any private property owner) how best to operate their business. There are too many legislators already willing to do that, and it‚s got this state into an economic mess.

So I oppose dam removal, but I support PacifiCorp‚s right to do what is best for their customers. They made a decision that if the dams were to come out, they had an obligation to limit both the costs and the liability to their customers. They did that. Last year an Agreement In Principle was signed by the State of California, the State of Oregon (their Legislature has already approved legislation that authorizes $180 million to be collected from Oregon ratepayers for the dam removals), the United States Government, PacifiCorp, and 25 other „stakeholder‰ groups (which included farmers, fishermen, and Native Americans) that laid out a pathway for dam removal. In September of this year a Draft Final Agreement was signed, and at some point over the next few months there will be a final agreement on the future of the dams.

Unfortunately, the residents of Siskiyou County don‚t seem to know about this Agreement. I cannot stop it, and any legislator who says otherwise is not being honest with you. The absolute earliest the dams could be removed is 2020. But, looking at the agreement, and the costs, and the myriad environmental studies that must happen before the first hammer is swung, I‚d be surprised if these dams don‚t come down for years beyond that.

I understand what this means to those people who have created communities around the lakes. They have been caught in a struggle that was not of their making and had little say in the solution. Many Klamath water users have signed off on the Final Agreement, I know others are very unhappy. The state has an obligation to do what it can to mitigate for the consequences of dam removal. This is why I pushed for a guaranteed $20 million for Siskiyou County if voters approve the water bond. This money will help the county and landowners meet the challenges to come with dam removal.

It doesn‚t make sense to me to get rid of these dams˜they provide cheap electricity (but only 4% of PacifiCorp‚s total generation), they provide some limited water storage, and they enhance the surrounding property for homes and recreation. But when the owner, PacifiCorp, the State of California, the State of Oregon, the United States government, and so many stakeholders from Lake Klamath to the coast have agreed on a plan for their eventual removal, the writing is on the wall. Once PacifiCorp agreed to the dam removal plan, my job, as I see it, was to get the best deal for Siskiyou County that I could. And that‚s what I did.

I will be adding more info to this site soon. If you have questions or comments please feel free to send them to me.
Please check this site for frequent updates as I get them. There will be no email lists or mass mailings sent from this site. Thank you.


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