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New MOA on Klamath Dams results in further divided views and questions authority

Klamath Falls News by Brian Gailey 11/17/2020

Today via teleconference, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, leaders of the Yurok & Karuk Tribes, and Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp joined in announcing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to provide additional resources and support to advance the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.

The project, when completed, will have removed the JC Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2, and Iron Gate Dams; to address declines in fish populations, improve river health, and renew Tribal communities and cultures. What effect this has upstream of the damn has yet to be determined.

The MOA is opposed by some of Oregon’s Legislative and Klamath County officials calling the signing unconstitutional, unethical, and raise questions regarding the transfer of liability away from Pacific Power.

The signed Memorandum of Agreement describes how the parties will implement the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) as negotiated and signed in 2016. The KHSA sets the terms for the removal of four Klamath River dams.

Arguments in Favor

“The Klamath River is a centerpiece of tribal community, culture and sustenance and a national ecological treasure,” Governor Newsom said. “With this agreement, we are closer than ever to restoring access to 400 miles of salmon habitat which will be a boon to the local economy. I am grateful for the partnership between California and Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, and Berkshire Hathaway that proves when we work together, we can build a better, more inclusive future for all.”

With the Memorandum of Agreement, the parties: 

  • Jointly ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to remove PacifiCorp from the license for the project and add California, Oregon, and KRRC as co-licensees for carrying out dam removal. Adding the states as co-licensees provides assurances that the project will have sufficient financial backing while honoring settlement terms that stipulate PacifiCorp would not be a co-licensee for removal.

  • Demonstrate their firm commitment to dam removal.

  • Agree to nearly double available contingency funds held by KRRC and contractors and, in the unlikely event that additional funds are needed beyond that, Oregon, California, and PacifiCorp will share the costs equally to address FERC’s requirement to ensure full funding for the project.

  • Confirm that the KRRC will remain the dam removal entity for the project.

  • Plan to navigate the final regulatory approvals necessary to allow the project to begin in 2022 with dam removal in 2023. Site remediation and restoration will continue beyond 2023.

  • Retain the liability protections for PacifiCorp’s customers established in the KHSA.

Taken together, these provisions are intended to resolve FERC’s concerns raised in a July 2020 order and ensure a successful dam removal project.

“This is an incredibly important step forward on the path towards restorative justice for the people of the Klamath Basin, and towards restoring health to the river as well as everyone and everything that depends on it,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said. “From time immemorial, the stewardship of the indigenous peoples of the Klamath basin have nurtured the lands, waters, fish and wildlife of this region. In Oregon, the Klamath tribes remember a time when their livelihoods were supported by clean, healthy, and vibrant waters. It is that vision, that promise, that we are working towards restoring for the generations to come.”

“I want to thank Governor Newsom and Governor Brown for their leadership in bringing everyone together to collaborate and solve a very complex challenge,” Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said. “I recognize the importance of Klamath dam removal and river restoration for tribal people in the Klamath Basin. We appreciate and respect our tribal partners for their collaboration in forging an agreement that delivers an exceptional outcome for the river, as well as future generations. Working together from this historic moment, we can complete the project and remove these dams.”

“As Yurok tribal people, it is our sacred duty to bring balance to the Klamath River,” Yurok Tribe Chair Joseph James said. “At its heart, dam removal is about healing and restoration for the river, for the salmon, and for our people. We have never wavered from this obligation and we are pleased to see dam removal come closer to reality through this agreement. Reaching this important milestone would not be possible without the many tribal people who have dedicated their lives to restoring the river. We want to thank Berkshire Hathaway, PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, and the Karuk Tribe. Although we are excited to be moving forward again, we want to emphasize that the Yurok Tribe will never rest until the dams are out and the river is healed. From the families on the Klamath, we want to thank the Buffett family for their support and leadership.”

“We are deeply grateful to the parties who negotiated a path forward for this epic project to restore the Klamath River,” KRRC Chief Executive Officer Mark Bransom said. “As has been the case numerous times in the past, the signatories to the KHSA have tackled obstacles head-on and found creative solutions to daunting problems. But we particularly recognize the personal involvement of Governor Newsom, Governor Brown, and Berkshire Hathaway leadership who stepped in to ensure that dam removal proceeds. Once all the necessary approvals are obtained it will be full speed ahead in removing the Klamath dams and allowing salmon to access habitat that has been cut off for a century.”

“Oregon and California have made the best of a bad situation forced upon the two states when FERC upset the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement dam removal process with an unexpected and unwelcome ruling last summer,” said Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. “We’re glad to see the states step up and all the parties that signed the Klamath settlement reach this agreement, and we look forward to seeing these dams come out just as soon as humanly possible.”

Arguments in Opposition

Today’s announcement comes with stiff opposition to the signatures of the MOA. Opponents argue that the agreement will transfer potentially billions of dollars of liability from Pacific Power onto Oregon taxpayers and business. Opponents also question the constitutional authority of Governor Brown to enter into such an agreement without legislative process or approval from the people of Oregon.

“This is unethical business by PacifiCorp. We accept them as a business partner in our community, but transferring the liability, potentially billions of dollars onto every taxpayer and business in the state of Oregon, is wrong,” said Klamath County Commissioner Donnie Boyd.

“This bold move by the Governor, without any legislative consideration, continues her unconstitutional mandates causing harm to Oregonians while lining the pockets of big corporations,” said Representative E. Werner Reschke.

“While the Governor polishes her resume for the Biden administration, the prospects for her career increase but the opportunities for Oregonians decrease,” said Rep. Reschke.

State Senator Dennis Linthicum replied, “This is another saga in the latest batch of Governor Kate Brown’s unconstitutional power grabs. Brown continually brokers high-stakes, dark-of-night deals without public or legislative input. Oregon’s taxpayers will be on the hook for millions if this imprudent cronyism is allowed to stand.”

Representative Reschke, Senator Linthicum, and Commissioner Boyd stand resolute against this memorandum of agreement.

Oregon House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) released the following statement on the recently announced agreement to remove Klamath dams and transfer liability to Oregonians:

“It is critically important as complex water issues in the Klamath basin continue to impact tribal members, water users and stakeholders, that we don’t forget all Oregonians who are depending on us to maintain a commitment to good government.

Any executive branch agreement must include protections for tax dollars currently dedicated to funding our safety net.

During this period of economic uncertainty Oregonians cannot afford to allow the governor to simply write a blank check.

This agreement has no protections against cost overruns and is being entered into within an uncertain litigious and regulatory environment, which will impact state budgets for years to come.

As discussions of the removal of additional dams continue within the Brown administration, the importance of hydropower to Oregon’s economic strength and growth cannot be overstated. Hydropower remains a reliable, clean, emission-free energy source which we must not abandon.”




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