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House passes bill aiming to expedite Klamath dam removal

, Herald and News September 24, 2020

KBC NOTE: Craig Tucker: "we worked with the Klamath Project irrigators, the enemies of the tribes since those guys showed up; we did work out a water sharing agreement. ...We did not solve all the problems in the Klamath Basin with these agreements. We did not get rid of all the farmers, we did not rebuild all the wetlands, but we do pull off the biggest dam removal in the history of the world...and if we're still gonna deal with water quality issues at Keno, at the end of the day, I can guarantee the Karuk Tribe and Craig Tucker will be in the front seat dealing with that next."

< Karuk spokesman Craig Tucker's facebook photo

Iron Gate Dam, the most downstream of four dams on the Klamath River slated for removal through the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. On September 24, the House of Representatives passed a bill aiming to compel PacifiCorp, the utility that owns the dams, to stop delaying the removal process.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4447, the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, on Thursday. Included in the act was the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement Tribal Fairness Amendment, spearheaded by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). The amendment comes after Huffman hosted a forum on the health of the Klamath River in August, where he hinted that he would be introducing legislation to compel PacifiCorp to move forward with the terms of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.

“The amendment is designed to safeguard Tribal communities against further harm to the Klamath River and its ecosystem and remediate existing problems in the Klamath River basin and downstream communities caused by four aging dams owned by PacifiCorp,” according to a news release.

PacifiCorp secured its most recent license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the dams in 1956. The license expired in 2006, after which PacifiCorp has continued to renew it on a yearly basis in anticipation of carrying out the terms of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. The agreement says the utility will surrender the dam license to the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which will then oversee the removal of the dams.

“The amendment is clearly an attempt to influence ongoing negotiations among settlement parties to keep enactment of the agreement on track,” said PacifiCorp spokesperson Bob Gravely.

This July, FERC granted a partial transfer of the license to KRRC, requiring PacifiCorp to remain a co-licensee. Though the KHSA terms outline a $200 million cost cap for the utility to contribute to the removal process (which has already been accumulated via surcharges on PacifiCorp’s ratepayers in Oregon and California), PacifiCorp representatives said KHSA signatories needed to return to the negotiation table to determine how the utility would avoid liability for unforeseen costs associated with the removal process. The KHSA intended for the removal to start this year, but nothing can go forward until PacifiCorp agrees to the new co-licensee setup.

Huffman’s amendment would let tribes impacted by the dams (namely the Karuk, Yurok Tribes) to recommend their own conditions for FERC’s annual renewal of PacifiCorp’s dam license. It also requires PacifiCorp to present a litany of studies to FERC, including reports on how the dams impact fish and wildlife, sediment transport and water quality. The legislation would effectively make it more difficult for PacifiCorp to attain the yearly licenses if the KHSA operations are delayed, pushing them to move forward with the agreement.

“The House has sent a very clear message to PacifiCorp that we will no longer accept business as usual with their destructive Klamath River dams,” Huffman said. “PacifiCorp should not expect automatic annual licenses for these dams that harm tribal fisheries and downstream water quality.”

Huffman has previously urged Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns PacifiCorp, to honor the KHSA, asserting that any further delay to the removal project will worsen the river’s condition.

In addition to emphasizing the utility’s commitment to its customers, who would have to bear any extra costs PacifiCorp shoulders as co-licensee, Gravely said the act “{span}would inappropriately politicize and undermine a well-established component of the way the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission handles the terms and conditions for hydro project licenses {span}during the time between when a long-term project license expires and the outcome of the expired license is resolved.{/span}{/span}”

Downriver tribes, whose fish-reliant communities have been decimated by decades of an altered Klamath River, welcomed the amendment.

“The Karuk Tribe lauds Congressman Huffman’s amendment,” said Craig Tucker, natural resource specialist for the Karuk Tribe. “It’s irresponsible to allow PacifiCorp to operate these dams at status quo and continue the destruction of our fishery.”

In a letter to Huffman earlier this month, Yurok Tribal Council Chairperson Joseph L. James also praised the legislation.

“The Yurok Tribe has been working in good faith with the company and federal regulators for nearly 20 years now,” James wrote. “The time has come to end the delays and solve this problem.”



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