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Speaker Bedke, my door is always open

by REP. MIKE SIMPSON Contributing Writer
| March 18, 2021 1:00 AM

Speaker Scott Bedke’s recent comments and questions about my concept to end the Northwest salmon, dam and energy wars caught my attention. As a former Speaker of the Idaho House, I have great respect for Speaker Bedke. No one agrees with each other 100% of the time, but I count Scott as a friend, and I agree that he is an expert in water policy.

“Scott is correct, the concept I have put out for discussion has the potential to fundamentally change the very economy upon which Idaho producers depend. It can provide the certainty and security from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other environmental lawsuits that producers have told me they need. My concept makes possible:

Ending ESA and Clean Water Act lawsuits against producers for 25 years.

Locking in all major dams in the Northwest and protecting them from lawsuits for 35-50 years.

$700 million to address farm runoff issues in the Snake River Basin for voluntary watershed partnerships designed to enhance water quality, temperature and quantity.

$100 million for the University of Idaho for research and development of animal nutrient management processes to convert manure into other products.

$400 million in direct incentives to Idaho dairies and confined animal feedlots to build manure digestors/waste containment systems.

Speaker Bedke questioned if I met from stakeholders from Idaho. I started with environmental groups, tribes and officials from Oregon and Washington first. As he knows, they are and have been plaintiffs in litigation against the four Lower Snake River dams. The first thing I told them was that if there was going to be any discussion in my concept about breaching the four Lower Snake River dams, they must accept locking in all other major dams for 35-50 years and ending litigation against these dams for 35 years. If they couldn’t agree to end the lawsuits, it was a non-starter for me. Litigation against producers must end. If he thinks the environmentalists wrote my concept, he is mistaken. Everything in the concept is on my website for all the public to see. I’m starting a discussion to give certainty and security to Idaho’s producers. Some people may be saying ‘hell no,’ but others in the ag community, who are faced daily with litigation against them are looking at it differently.

Scott also raised a question about the 487,000-acre feet of water that leaves Idaho every year under the ESA biological opinion and asked if powerful interests downstream will demand additional water if breaching is unsuccessful.

The Speaker’s statement confuses me a bit, he is right, we do flush 487,000-acre feet of water down the river for salmon to help get them through these four Washington dams. If these four dams are breached, we might not have to flush that water for salmon anymore and could instead keep it for Idaho agriculture and recharge.

It would be easy to do nothing, to stay the course and not have difficult conversations. It is very easy to tell people that ideas like mine are pure madness and assume that no judge or future administration will ever change the operations of the Lower Snake River dams. People told the timber families and Klamath producers the same, ‘if you just fight, you can beat the ESA and judges.’ They were wrong. In the Klamath Basin, after litigation and appeals, those four dams will be removed by 2024. However, those stakeholders in Klamath will not be made whole like ours would under my concept. One of my greatest fears is that a liberal judge or administration will break the status quo and force change in Lower Snake River operations without warning, leaving our producers and communities with nothing to compensate them for those changes.

I appreciate that Speaker Bedke recognized this is a proposal. I am actively seeking feedback and discussion. I do not have a 1,000-page bill drafted, vetted and ready to introduce.

A discussion must start somewhere, and in the last three years my staff and I have held over 300 stakeholder meetings, including stakeholders in Idaho. Unfortunately, Speaker Bedke couldn’t make the meeting my staff had scheduled with him before the concept was released. But Scott, my door is always open—to you or anyone else who is willing to come to the table. I recognize how valuable the dams are, and their benefits must be replaced if they are to be removed. My bottom line is simple—create certainty for producers, end the lawsuits, and give Idaho salmon a chance.”

Rep. Mike Simpson represents Idaho in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at simpson.house.gov.