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Is PacifiCorp helping lead?


They are negotiating over dams, and the results could clear the road for agreement

by Steve Miller, Herald and News June 8, 2008
This is a tip of the hat to our friends at PacifiCorp. We’ve peeved them a little in a past editorial, urging them to drop the vestiges of adversarial-style posturing and instead fully collaborate with stakeholders to move along the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

That agreement was hashed out by a wide-ranging group of people integrally involved in water, power, conservation, economic, regulatory and cultural interests. Incredible. We think that it spells out the long-term, sustainable health of Basin business and culture.

Among other things, it calls for the eventual removal of four PacifiCorp dams, and we asserted that PacifiCorp needed to remember that this wasn’t about just their business or about just their dams, but about a larger agreement, a larger framework of issues, an incredibly large and diverse community with an economy worth billions annually.

Did we say dam removal?

Yep, it’s hard to get past that item.

It’s not entirely fair for us to tell the company to get over itself, any more than it would be for any one stakeholder group to tell the others to only do things its way.

To back up a little: Old-era adversarial-style posturing wasn’t getting anyone anywhere. When you have cultures as diverse as lawyers, farmers, tribes, advocacy groups, environmentalists and regulators facing off, everyone’s going to have a struggle on how to properly posture themselves. So the agreement among stakeholders changed the rules. It was a wise move, that change in tack from adversarial to collaborative negotiating. It broke down decades of differences in style, and focused everyone on substance. After decades of chest thumping, back turning, indignation or pointed avoidance, in just a couple years of collaborative negotiating they came up with a master plan that gets the Basin community quite a ways down the road. (A few of the groups involved in the process were left unhappy with the agreement, but who would have thought three years ago that so few would be?)

PacifiCorp, ironically, helped bring the groups together as the company waded into the long process of relicensing the hydropower projects. Then the company stayed away from the negotiations, taking on the role of interested third party. And at the end of the process, a document was released in January setting out the grand plan. That’s when we started wondering about the power company.

It seemed to us that PacifiCorp leadership was a little slow in scanning the change in posture from adversarial to collaborative. But, to be fair, how could you expect their vision to be unencumbered when they’ve got something as gargantuan as dam removal blocking the view?

The huge power company made the sounds of defensive skepticism. They said they were surprised by the dam removal proposal, that stakeholders were “putting the cart before the horse,” that the company is concerned with relicensing and the agreement isn’t their “game.” That sort of display was akimbo to what we were seeing around the table, and it disappointed us. We hoped PacifiCorp would take up a leadership role in regard to the agreement, pick it up with all its strengths and weaknesses, and help lead the way.

You know what? Despite our early perceptions that they were a little too intrigued by gamesmanship, we sort of think they are helping to lead the way. We understand they have to look out for their business, and we firmly believe that they care about the communities they operate in. They are bringing focus to a very important checklist of issues that might be inconvenient but are vital to success.

So, what now?

Transfer ownership?

The rumors buzz around. Stakeholders and PacifiCorp leaders have often mentioned the negotiating that still has to be done and is being carried on. And we’ve heard from various sources that there is higher level negotiating that might help move things along. We can’t get a peep out of the company about that, but there’s some guessing going on, and some of the guesses seem pretty logical.

The big one? Transfer of ownership. If there’s any truth to that rumor, it seems fairly brilliant. PacifiCorp has to worry about more than a little with the prospect of dam removal — really, besides the initial costs and the loss to its portfolio, the big bogeyman is liability. How could the company be held harmless for the possibility of bad things happening after removal? This is a huge project; the liability could be enormous — enough to break the back of even a very large company. That would be bad for all stakeholders.

So take the company out of the equation by transferring control and responsibility.

We don’t know if that’s exactly what the company is negotiating about. But we are sure that the company is negotiating and is working to maintain the health of the Basin and is conscious of the fantastic array of social, economic and cultural constituencies that populate their customer base.

We’re not apologizing for earlier editorials, and we’re not saying we won’t irritate them some more, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like and respect them.

Company’s checklist is vital for success

“Collaboration” sounds weak to some. It’s not. It’s the strong way of getting things done and it demands a little more courage up front than being adversarial, because you have to expose your self-interests and concerns, and you have to recognize those of others.

Collaboration doesn’t mean you roll over and play dead; it means that you very actively engage in building something. We believe PacifiCorp is doing that, though their style has thrown us off a bit.

What they have brought to bear in dialogue over the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is their version of a check-off list of items that must be addressed for the agreement to succeed. It’s a good list, with concerns valid not only to the company, its customers, employees and stockholders, but to everyone in the Basin:

  • PacifiCorp alone should not have to bear the costs of facilitating the agreement (and that’s what dam removal is). The company would lose the value of a renewable energy source in a time of great concern over carbon emissions.
  • Its customers and stockholders should not have to bear the burden of additional costs because of removal, mitigation, liability or the resulting loss of a renewable resource.
  • There should be sound, independent scientific research and analysis done before, during and after dam removal.
  • Issues of liability need to be mitigated in advance. A company with a dam on a river has legal trouble if it simply does nothing, let alone build something new or tear something down. In a larger Basin community where the annual economy is worth billions of dollars, potential liability could be a backbreaker. The company deserves adequate protection.
  • Recognition of the fact that PacifiCorp’s constituency lives and works on all sides of the issue and the entire Basin and all its residents’ concerns is needed.
  • Progress made implementing the agreement will be incremental. That needs to be recognized and acknowledged for all that it means. The workings of the agreement need to be adjusted to what is most likely a decades-long process of scientific research, engineering, mitigation.
Good science needed

    Pacific Power President Pat Reiten is absolutely justified in his concern that the issues of dam removal and river system renovation be guided by the right kind of science.

    And what is pleasing about that assertion is that he defines the “right kind” as “independent” science.

    We’ve seen all sorts of science being tossed into the hopper for exchange over the issues of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. Some of it is very good; some of it not so good; much of it was constructed to prove or disprove a particular point. Some of it not only proves but ballyhoos dam removal as the perfectly logical next step; some of it practically gasps with paranoia over removal.

    It’s not unlike most deals in life: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if it sounds like a fire alarm, it’s probably alarmist.

    Reiten says he advocates the need for copious “independent science.” He’s exactly right.

Heard from politicians?

    We know where a good many regional people and entities stand on the agreement, and it looks more favorable than not.

    And PacifiCorp makes clear that it’s proceeding with relicensing, though it’s clear they’re in negotiations at various levels that cover topics related to the agreement, including dam removal and mitigation of costs and liabilities.

    Now, where are our federal and state politicians? We need them to come to the fore.

    Our intrepid Oregon congressman, Greg Walden, R-2nd Dist., has voiced general support for the agreement and has his staff tuned into what’s happening. But we haven’t heard much from the governor’s office, nor the offices of our U.S. senators or California’s state and federal delegations.

    What’s the word?
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