Nearly 20,000 Co-op Members Urge Biden to Preserve Snake River Dams

A petition signed by nearly 20,000 electric co-op members and employees was sent to the White House this week to oppose any effort to breach the dams on the lower Snake River. (Photo By: Harald Sund/Getty Images)

Nearly 20,000 electric cooperative consumer-members and employees have signed a petition urging the Biden administration to abandon any plans to breach the four Lower Snake River dams that provide carbon-free hydropower to more than 50 Northwest co-ops.

“We strongly oppose any efforts that would breach the Lower Snake River Dams and risk the reliability of our electricity,” states the petition, which was delivered to the White House on Dec. 14 on behalf of Voices for Cooperative Power, NRECA’s grassroots network. The 19,503 signatures were collected in eight Northwest states in about a week.

NRECA activated the VCP network in the states where co-ops receive hydropower marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration from 31 dams in the Federal Columbia River Power System, including the four Snake River dams. Those states are Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.

“It’s important for consumer-members to speak out on policy decisions that affect whether they can keep their lights on,” said Kelly Cushman, NRECA’s vice president of political programs. “VCP gives them the platform they need to make their voices heard.”

NRECA and its Northwest members became alarmed in late November when lawmakers leaked a draft legal settlement by the Biden administration, environmental groups, and tribal and state governments over the federal government’s operation of the lower Snake River dams.

In a lawsuit filed in 2021, plaintiffs charged that the dams are threatening the survival of endangered salmon. The draft settlement supports breaching the dams and replacing them with other types of renewable energy.

The VCP petition urges President Joe Biden to “abandon the Draft Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative Agreement as it will have grave consequences and jeopardize reliable, affordable electricity for millions of Americans across eight states.”

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said the petition “is a powerful display of support and speaks directly to the importance of ensuring continued access to affordable, reliable electricity.”

“The Biden administration must change course before it’s too late,” he said.

The proposed agreement acknowledges that the administration does not have the power by itself to remove the dams. Congress would have to approve any plan to breach them.

“However, if this draft agreement is signed, I think that’s a step toward the possibility that the dams could be breached,” Cushman said.

BPA’s website says “the lower Snake River dams are part of a Northwest energy solution with the capability to generate over 3,000 megawatts of carbon-free power.”

Montana’s co-ops alone say they receive nearly 330 MW of electricity from the Columbia River Basin—enough power to serve more than 100,000 homes.

BPA also says that it has fish-passage systems that ensure that more than 90% of the salmon that migrate through the dams survive.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.