Secret Deal That Would Jeopardize the Lower Snake River Dams

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson on Friday blasted a covert agreement between the Biden administration and hydropower plaintiffs that threatens hydropower production at four Lower Snake River dams, a move that would compromise electric reliability and affordability for millions in the western United States who rely on the carbon-free energy resource. 

The draft settlement agreement seeks to solve long-standing litigation surrounding the Lower Snake River dams, part of the Federal Columbia River Power System. It was made public by lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest on Nov. 29. 

“The proposed backroom deal is deeply alarming and would jeopardize reliable electricity for millions of Americans in the West,” Matheson said. “Not only does this expose a severe lack of understanding about the importance of keeping the lights on, it also reveals the administration’s misplaced desire to undermine our nation’s essential portfolio of carbon-free hydroelectric resources without considering the cost. This is another egregious example of proposed government actions having devastating real-world consequences.” 

NRECA and the American Public Power Association sent an urgent letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and White House advisers expressing concern about the impact of the administration’s proposal, which did not include meaningful input from electric utilities in the region. 

“If this agreement is ratified, it would jeopardize electric reliability and increase costs for millions of Americans throughout the Pacific Northwest,” Matheson and Scott Corwin, APPA president and CEO, said in the Dec. 1 letter. 

“The draft agreement clearly shows that the Administration’s goal is dam breaching, a conclusion that runs counter to decades of studies, science and governmental actions and an outcome that would destabilize the economy of an entire region of the nation.” 

The Pacific Northwest congressional delegation raised numerous concerns and questions about the confidential agreement in a Nov. 29 letter to President Joe Biden, including how grid reliability would be maintained without the 24/7 baseload carbon-free energy provided by the dams. 

Regional trade associations whose members include electric cooperatives, including Northwest RiverPartners and the Public Power Council, also expressed extreme concern about the lack of transparency and how the proposed actions would harm the region. 

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.