Green Group To Sue Corps, Feds Over Columbia River Decision

A group representing environmental lawyers has filed notice of intent to sue the federal government, including the Corps of Engineers, over its decision not to dismantle locks and dams on the Columbia River.

Earthjustice, which calls itself “the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization,” sent the 60-day notice of intent to sue to eight federal officials, including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, Chief of Engineers; and Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette; and officials from the Bonneville Power Administration, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The group is objecting to the Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement, recently approved by the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, and supported by biological opinions from both NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife. The statement recommended against dismantling the Columbia-Snake system’s locks and dam, which enable commercial navigation as well as providing clean hydropower for area residents.

Environmental groups have long blamed the river system’s locks and dams for drastically diminishing the population of wild salmon that use the river to spawn. Recent studies have shown that offshore wildlife populations that depend on the salmon, such as orcas, are also affected and declining. Earthjustice is suing on behalf of conservation and environmental groups, including American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, Institute for Fisheries Resources, NW Energy Coalition, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Columbia Riverkeeper and Idaho Conservation League.

Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA), issued the following statement in response:

“While we agree that strong action should be taken to support our fish populations in the Northwest, this litigation is unproductive. Narrowing the focus of Columbia Basin salmon recovery to the removal of four Snake River dams ignores the complexity of the basin, the numerous threats faced by the species from ocean conditions and climate change and the comprehensive commitment our region must have to fish survival and ecological health. This lawsuit is the wrong action focusing on the wrong target and directed to the wrong jurisdiction. It only serves to divide the many entities that must work together and delay the real work we must accomplish to achieve our mutual goals.”

PNWA in September praised the Columbia River System Operations EIS and the federal agencies’ approach to balancing the many federally authorized uses of the system while continuing to support the ongoing recovery of endangered species like salmon.

“The river system is central to life in the Pacific Northwest,” Meira said. “It delivers our goods, powers our homes and businesses with clean energy, waters crops and supports recreation, all while achieving 95 percent or better fish survival at each of the federal dams with passage facilities. It’s critical we continue working together in good faith to continue improving the system for the benefit of humans, fish and other species, today and for the future.”