Larsen: Columbia River Treaty Should Be Renewed, Protect Northwest Washington Electricity Consumers

Dec 9, 2013 Issues: Energy

WASHINGTON—Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, told a Congressional committee today that the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty should benefit Northwest Washington residents.

In statement submitted to the House Natural Resources Committee for their field hearing on the treaty in Pasco, Larsen wrote, “The Columbia River does not reach my district, but it has far-reaching effects on my constituents. It provides affordable, clean hydropower to ratepayers in Everett, it provides salmon for fishers in Anacortes, and it provides the power that supports aluminum manufacturing jobs in Whatcom County. For all these reasons, it is critical to continue mutually beneficial management with Canada of the Columbia River.”

Larsen’s full statement follows:

Statement by Congressman Rick Larsen
Congressman, Washington 2nd District
House Natural Resources Committee Field Hearing
December 9, 2013
Pasco, WA

Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member DeFazio,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a statement for the House Natural Resources Committee’s field hearing on the Columbia River Treaty (CRT). While I could not be with the Committee today, renewal of the CRT is very important to many groups in my district and I appreciate the Committee’s attention to this issue.

The Columbia River does not reach my district, but it has far-reaching effects on my constituents. It provides affordable, clean hydropower to ratepayers in Everett, it provides salmon for fishers in Anacortes, and it provides the power that supports aluminum manufacturing jobs in Whatcom County. For all these reasons, it is critical to continue mutually beneficial management with Canada of the Columbia River.

I appreciate the work the U.S. Entity has done in creating a public process to make a consensus recommendation to the Department of State regarding the CRT. The Entity’s draft recommendation makes it clear that there are improvements that can be made, most importantly noting that U.S. ratepayers are paying more than their fair share for the incremental power benefit from the coordinated U.S.-Canada management of the river. Any changes to the Treaty should benefit these ratepayers and should not increase their costs.

I am hopeful that in their final recommendation, the U.S. Entity fully reflects the diverse interests and priorities of rights holders, as well as other beneficiaries and users of the Columbia River – including Native American tribes, ratepayers, businesses, water users, ports, recreational users, navigation interests and downriver residents. It is vital that future management decisions surrounding the Columbia River are made in a consensus way by the communities in the Pacific Northwest, not by officials 3,000 miles away in Washington, DC. The Northwest delegation has repeatedly made it clear that the complicated issues around the Columbia River are best settled by our constituents who live and work here. I believe the administration understands this, and I know this emphasis will remain a key priority for both the Chairman and Ranking Member.

Considering the Columbia River Treaty was written at a time when color TV was a thing of the future, it certainly can be modernized. The addition of ecosystem benefits as a key part of the treaty has potential to provide new benefits for fish habitats and meeting tribal treaty responsibilities. However, we should not overlook the decades of effort and billions of dollars that have already been invested in salmon restoration. That money comes from folks who pay their electricity bill every month and have a number of other bills to pay for. As a result, this year’s salmon returns to the Columbia River are at record levels. Any new ecosystem improvements being suggested should be clearly defined, and the costs and funding sources for any of these improvements should be closely detailed.

We should also know who is paying for those improvements. I do not believe that we should pass additional costs for ecosystem benefits on to everyday folks who are already paying $700 million each year through BPA for similar efforts. We should not offer a blank check to ill-defined “ecosystem” measures without being completely clear about the specific goals, legal responsibilities and scientific backing for such measures.

Thank you again for your leadership on this issue. I look forward to working with you to ensure a regional approach to ensure the Columbia River Treaty is a continued success.