COLUMN: Preserve Dams to Produce Clean Energy

August 22, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Throughout the August district work period, I have traveled throughout all eight counties of Washington’s 4th District. I always get diverse questions from constituents on a range of topics, and I enjoy these conversations. I have heard from several constituents who shared their support for the dams on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers. I would like to take this opportunity to express my strong support for maintaining dams, which are so important for a host of reasons, including power generation, flood control, transportation, recreation, and water storage in Central Washington and the Pacific Northwest.

Abundant and affordable energy is key to a thriving economy both nationally and in our state. In the summertime especially, when the only thing keeping American homes and businesses cool during high temperatures is their air conditioners, families are faced with the higher cost of energy prices. Central Washington is blessed with abundant clean and renewable energy resources such as wind, biomass, and our largest energy generator – hydropower. We need an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes nuclear power, fossil fuels, and renewable sources, such as hydropower, to keep the price of energy down.

I have visited Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River multiple times: combined with Lower Monumental Dam, Little Goose Dam, and Lower Granite Dam, these dams have an average capacity of about 1,022 megawatts of electricity, which the Bonneville Power Administration estimates is enough to power a city the size of Seattle. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration calculates that the entire Columbia River Basin generates 40% of total U.S. hydroelectric capacity. According to Todd Myers at the Washington Policy Center, replacing the Snake River dams would increase energy costs by more than $200 million a year. Preserving these dams is critical for reliable and affordable electricity generation.

It is important that federal policies recognize the important role hydropower plays. I am proud to cosponsor H. Res. 351 with my colleague Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, which would express the sense of Congress that “hydroelectric power is the most abundant source of clean, renewable energy in the United States and should be fully utilized in the pursuit of energy independence and affordable energy for the people of the United States.”

In addition to this legislation, I introduced an amendment to push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize all hydropower as a renewable energy source under the EPA's regulations. The amendment would address the unfair carbon reduction targets placed on states with hydropower generation. It makes no sense for sources of hydroelectricity to be left off of this list, which effectively penalizes Washington for utilizing a renewable power source.

We must protect our dams. Dams help promote American energy independence, preserve the environment, and keep energy reliable and affordable.