Over the past few years there has been a call by some to remove dams on the Lower Snake River. In response to that campaign, US Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee are in the midst of conducting a review that could lead to their removal. This review is reliant on interviewing stakeholders to determine if the benefits of the dams can be replaced, with a Final Draft coming out by July 31st.
At the May 4th, 2022 meeting of the Southwest Washington Central Labor Council Delegates voted to approve a resolution declaring the Council’s “utmost support of retaining the Lower Snake River Dams,” and distributing the resolution among local unions “that all members may also add their individual voice in support of these dams and all the jobs affected by them.” Now we’re asking for your help – please let your Local know you support retaining the Lower Snake River Dams until we can find solutions to mitigate the impact of their removal on working families and implement them.
Studies by federal utility managers indicate that the only way to replace the power and reliability that dams on the Snake River provide would be to use more energy produced by burning coal and natural gas, which would raise costs for working families an estimated 25%. The best scientific analysis shows this would increase regional greenhouse gas emissions by 1.3 – 3.3 million tons every year, making the impacts of climate change even worse.
Union members are proud of the role we play in building infrastructure for wind, solar, and even future micro-nuclear generation and electrolytic hydrogen production. Intermittent power sources, though, rely on traditional “dispatchable” sources that are controlled to match demand second-by-second. Wind and solar work here in the Pacific Northwest because of the reliability of hydroelectric and other sources. Our goals for a cleaner, greener planet means we need clean, renewable hydropower more than ever for the whole system to work.
Even as we add capacity, current power generation in the Pacific Northwest is not at a level judged “adequate.” It took 100 years, the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, multiple resolutions from the WSLC and CLC’s across Washington and lots of hard work to build the 64GW capacity we currently have in the Pacific Northwest’s electrical grid.
At least another 100 gigawatts are needed by 2045-2050, though, to keep up with growing demand and the planned decommissioning of fossil-fuel powerplants. Projections based on planned projects do not keep up with demand (even if they can be built in time) and this will result in an increasingly less reliable grid.
2021’s heat wave killed over five hundred people in the Pacific Northwest. The Snake River dams kept power running in Central Washington and prevented even more deaths. The aforementioned studies show that removing these dams would double the chances of blackouts in the region, add stress to the system and create uncertainty in local utilities’ ability to provide reliable power to families, businesses, and communities. Sadly, our most marginalized communities are likely to bear the greatest impact from this.
In addition to the reliability of power generation, it’s important to remember the Lower Snake River dams supply irrigation water for Washington’s agricultural industry. Removal of these dams would remove 48 thousand acres of land from agriculture and affect food production in three of Washington’s most productive agricultural counties. Food processing is a $12 billion industry and is our state’s second largest manufacturing industry, with thousands of jobs in that sector alone.
Removal of these dams would also increase transportation costs and greenhouse gas emissions associated with bringing our food to market, as it would disrupt the river transportation system for agricultural goods.
Lower Snake River dam removal will have an impact on the economy that will hit working families especially hard. It could result in fewer jobs, not just along the Snake River and Tri-Cities but throughout our state. Add the likely increase in retail electricity prices which will impact businesses and it’s hard to say how this action could further negatively impact working families. To quote from a May 5th letter from the Tri-Cities Food bank,
“Maintaining the absolute lowest cost, clean, renewable energy supply is essential to economic recovery and slowing current rapid erosion of the working middle class. Pushing more and more people into poverty is a consequence of removing the Snake River hydroelectric dams. Replacement of the power generation capacity provided currently by the dams would come at a much higher cost and drive electrical bills higher long into the future.
If the desire is to widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in this country, then take out the dams. People are already having to choose between power bills and food.”
We need your help to communicate what removal of the Lower Snake River Dams would mean for working families across Washington state. Please let your Local know you support retaining the Lower Snake River Dams until we can find solutions to mitigate these impacts and build them. The breaching proposal by anti-union, anti-PRO Act Congressman Mike Simpson (ID-R) could not get support and funding from the bi-partisan Infrastructure Bill and has no path forward. Our future depends on strong leadership from Pro-Worker advocates who include us in their processes.
Please contact Southwest Washington Central Labor Council Secretary Treasurer Kevin Lux for more information and to find out how your Local can be included in the Inslee/Murray process.