Sunday, January 18, 2009

Major new opposition to the Klamath Dam Deal emerges; Siskiyou County will negotiate over Klamath Dams’ fate.

Quite some time ago KlamBlog pointed out that aspects of the proposed Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement (the Klamath Water Deal) would engender fierce opposition from unlikely quarters when and if that agreement becomes embodied in federal legislation. As an example, we pointed to the provision of the proposed Deal which would provide “On-Project Irrigators” – the Basin’s Irrigation Elite - with cheap federal power generated by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). BPA power flows through the Klamath River Basin to points south on interstate transmission lines.

There are interests which already have access to all the power the Bonneville Power Administration generates. That cheap power is a major determinant of profit margins for companies that receive it. If federal legislation attempts to assign an allocation of Bonneville Power to the Irrigation Elite, KlamBlog pointed out, someone else would need to loose access. Potential power losers can be expected to oppose the legislation.

Industries which benefit from Bonneville’s cheap power include the Aluminum Industry, Timber Industry and internet-based companies like Google, Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo. These and other firms which depend on moving data over the internet are aggressively pursuing cheap power – including Bonneville Power. These and other Bonneville Power users can be expected to oppose legislation based on the proposed Water Deal if it includes giving the Irrigation Elite access to cheap Bonneville Power.

In a development which has not been reported by news outlets within/near the Klamath River Basin, evidence that this source of opposition to the Dam and Water Deals is already in play emerged in early December. On December 3rd the Willamette Weekly reported that “Standing in the way of the (Oregon) Legislature approving the proposed (dam financing) deal are some of Oregon's biggest employers, represented by the group Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities. Among those employers: Georgia Pacific, Weyerhaeuser and Intel.”

The Industrial Customers say that under the Dam Deal Oregon ratepayers will bear 90% of the costs of decommissioning; they want those costs spread among all PacifiCorp ratepayers in the six states in which PacifiCorp operates.

While the Industrial Customers current issue is how the Dam Deal allocates the costs of decommissioning, the prospect of access to Bonneville Power likely figures prominently in their opposition. Governor Ted Kulongoski has stated that he will take the Dam Deal’s financing provision to the Oregon Legislature this month. That is why opposition by the Industrial Customers is currently focused on the Oregon Legislature and on dam decommissioning financing provisions.

Promoters of the Dam and Water Deals have consistently misunderstood and underestimated sources of opposition to the deals. These promoters seem to believe that the romance of big dam removal and the promise of river restoration will sweep away all opposition. So they have been surprised when local environmental groups like the Northcoast Environmental Center and Klamath Forest Alliance have failed to endorse the Water Deal as well as when the Irrigation Elite have been unable to deliver the Klamath County Commissioners and that county’s elected state and federal legislators. They are likely just as surprised that opposition by the Industrial Customers has emerged.

The more complex a deal becomes the more likely it is to engender opposition from multiple-quarters. For this reason, linking the Dam and Water Deals may prove to be a loosing strategy for those whose real priority is dam removal. But there is no indication that this realization has dawned on most dam removal proponents – at least not yet.

Breaking News: Siskiyou County will participate in confidential Klamath Dam negotiations

On January 8th the Siskiyou Daily News reported that the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors has decided to participate in Klamath Dam Negotiations.

In a carefully worded resolution, the Siskiyou Supervisors note the Agreement in Principle and state that “….it is Siskiyou County’s understanding that it can in good faith participate in negotiations for a Final Agreement without pre-commitment that dam removal is required.”

The resolution also gives an indication of what Siskiyou County’s strategy in the negotiations will be. It states that Siskiyou County has a “vested interest” in making sure that environmental reviews and scientific investigations will be “based on sound science and completed in a competent manner.”

Insistence on “peer-reviewed” science has become a major tactic of anti-environmental interests and has been used by Siskiyou County in the past to delay decisions they do not like. When it comes to its own decisions and environmental reviews, however, Siskiyou County does not appear to put much faith in environmental reviews or scientific study. For example, the County is under fire for approving “cloud seeding” by utility PG&E without a site specific environmental review and they attempted to approve a Roseburg Industries co-generation plant in Weed with only a declaration that environmental impacts would not be significant. Siskiyou County’s approval of the plant has recently been challenged in court.