Monday, February 20, 2012

Truth and Illusion: Klamath Deal promoters misrepresent Klamath dam options

Promoters of the Klamath dam and water deals – the KHSA and the KBRA – have a new talking point. In recent guest editorials and news stories influenced by promoter organizations they are telling us that there are only two choices for PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project. In the words of California Trout’s Curtis Knight:
           “There are two legal options for the dams: 1) fix them up and relicense them to modern standards at a cost exceeding $450 million, which is passed on to ratepayers; or 2) decommission and remove the dams under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) at a cost capped at $200 million to PacifiCorp and its ratepayers. Dam removal is cheaper. Much cheaper.”

It is true that the dams must either be relicensed to meet current requirements or they must be removed. It is not true, however, that there are only two options - relicensing under modern requirements or the KHSA/KBRA. A third option is to return to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process where decommissioning and removal of the privately owned Klamath Hydroelectric Project will be accomplished via the process designed by Congress for that purpose.

Removing the dams via the normal FERC process would save taxpayers roughly three quarters of a billion dollars - the cost to taxpayers of the KBRA. The best and the least expensive course for ratepayers and taxpayers is to decide the fate of the dams within the normal FERC process – not via special interest KHSA- KBRA legislation introduced in Congress by Senator Merkley and Congressman Thompson.

PacifiCorp's Condit Dam in Washington State is being removed using the FERC process 

Why the dams will come down

While removing the dams and powerhouses is cheaper than relicensing them to meet modern requirement, that is not what has doomed PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams. The core reason the Klamath Hydroelectric Project will not be relicensed is that the relicensed project would lose many millions of dollars each and every year. There is no way the California and Oregon Public Utilities Commissions will allow PacifiCorp to use expensive Klamath power when cheaper options for electric customers are available.

It is also unclear whether the California Water Quality Board would certify the refurbished dams as meeting Klamath River water quality standards or, for that matter, how much it would cost to secure that water quality certification. If PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project cannot secure Clean Water Act certification, a new license cannot be issued.

Led by the Hoopa Tribe, opponents of the KHSA will ask the California Water Quality Board (SWRCB) in April to resume hearings on the water quality certification for PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams. Deal opponents may also request that the state board require additional water quality mitigation measures until the fate of the dams is finally decided one way or the other.

Special deals for the well connected

PacifiCorp does not want to go the FERC route. The company realized years ago that a relicensed Klamath Hydroelectric Project would be an annual money loser. But removal via the normal FERC process would be PacifiCorp’s responsibility. That could be a complex and costly proposition with significant unknowns. So the politically well-connected company cut a deal with Bush’s Secretary of Interior and the two governors – a deal which would eventually be dressed up with a variety of stakeholders, duck taped to the KBRA and trotted out to the TV cameras.

The KHSA is a sweetheart deal for well-connected PacifiCorp to unload a non-performing asset at public expense. What’s more, under the KHSA, taxpayers assume all liability not just for dam removal, but for unknown toxic legacies associated with 100-year-old powerhouses.

Copco Powerhouse: 
What unknown toxic legacies are lurching around this and other aging powerhouses?

The KBRA is like the KHSA in that it favors one privileged group of irrigators – those who receive irrigation water from the federal Bureau of Reclamation – over all other interests including salmon, tribes and other irrigators in the Upper Basin and in the Shasta and Scott Valleys. It too is a sweetheart deal for the well-connected.

Promoters false ESA claims 

Deal promoters like PCFFA’s Glen Spain insistently and persistently claim that the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws are upheld by the KBRA. In reality, however, the most important section of that long document is specifically exempted from the provision Spain quotes as guaranteeing that environmental laws will be upheld. Like so much about the KBRA and KHSA, the claim that the ESA is preserved in these deals is an illusion and a scam.

Opponents of the Endangered Species Act realize that direct attacks on the iconic law are not only doomed to failure but are unpopular with voters. Consequently, attacks on the ESA are now hidden and indirect. The KBRA incorporates that strategy – claiming to uphold the ESA even while exempting key sections and providing what essentially amounts to a free pass on the ESA for the Klamath’s affluent and politically connected federal irrigators – the Klamath Irrigation Elite.
Here is what the Irrigation Elite’s organization – the Klamath Water Users Association - told its members about how the KBRA impacts the ESA:
           “The KBRA does not guarantee that there will be no impacts from the ESA. To have an absolute guarantee would require repeal, or at least major amendment, of the ESA, which is extremely improbable. The KBRA does, however, contain numerous provisions to ensure the greatest possible protection under existing law from ESA and other regulatory impacts, in order to make a considerable reduction in risk. Among other things, these provisions are designed to move away from the approach of looking to the Klamath Project to solve species concerns; support stable and long-term regulatory mechanisms to reduce risk; and reduce exposure to, and adverse consequences of any potential litigation. These provisions include sections 3.2.4, 5.4, 6.4, 20.3, 21.1.3, and 21.2.”

In the world of illusion that has been woven around these special interest deals, many things are not what they at first appear to be. Intimidated by the complex legal jargon replete in the KBRA and KHSA, most reporters have been content to rely on others to interpret what the deals actually mean. The result has been obfuscation and ongoing misunderstanding. 

The misunderstanding shrouding the KHSA and KBRA are a boon for river and fish conservation organizations which have signed and are promoting these deals. If their members ever found out that these “river and salmon champions” have signed off on deals which undermine the integrity of the ESA and subordinate the needs of salmon to those of federal irrigation interests, they would likely lose significant memberships and the associated donations.

Serving the 1%

There is a word for sweetheart deals where taxpayers pick up the tab; “subsidy” is that word. PacifiCorp and the Klamath’s “Irrigation Elite” want another subsidy … it’s the 1% way!

The rest of the show is just noise and distraction.

1 comment:

RPMazzucchi said...

Thank you for this cogent and compelling information on the Klamath dam removal efforts. While I must say that the negotiated agreements are not ideal solutions in this case the end's justify the means of a controversial public process.

Nonetheless, it is useful to understand the influence of the 1% when it comes to doling out the resources of the 99%. Their argument however does have some merit, wherein the benefits of removing the dams extend to everyone in the region, including the fish and natural ecosystem. While requiring the utility customers and investors to bear the full brunt of this remediation is defensible, it is apparently not the most expedient way to get the job done.