A bipartisan bill to protect dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers in Washington state passed the U.S. House April 25, giving an important victory to electric cooperatives and other supporters of federal hydropower.

H.R. 3144 would maintain the status quo at the dams until 2022. The bill came as a response to a March 2017 order by a federal judge in Portland, Oregon, that federal agencies increase spillover at dams along both rivers. U.S. District Judge Michael Simon said the action is needed to help young salmon that migrate to the Pacific. Simon's order went into effect April 3, 2018, following the rejection of an appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

NRECA and others fear that spilling more water will hike electricity prices. Federal agencies estimate that in 2018 alone, the cost to Northwest ratepayers will be an extra $40 million.

Beth Looney, president and CEO of PNGC Power in Portland, Oregon, called the House bill "commonsense legislation."

"PNGC and its 200,000 member homes, farms and businesses, including those in rural, underserved communities, applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for advancing legislation that balances the dual priorities of environmental stewardship and a universal desire for economic growth and prosperity," said Looney. "We believe that fish and dams can coexist and are excited to support practical proposals like H.R. 3144 that encourage compromise outside of the courtroom."

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson wrote to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources last month, supporting the bill. Matheson noted that 54 co-ops in seven Western states get hydropower from the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS).

"For decades, there has been uncertainty over the operations of existing hydropower in the Pacific Northwest due to federal regulations, court orders and other administrative decisions. This continued uncertainty to the FCRPS continues to affect [Bonneville Power Administration's] future power generation, rates and reliability in the region, and in turn the cooperative systems that depend upon it for reliable and affordable electric service to their communities," Matheson wrote.

BPA has warned that the consequences of the increased spillover could cause "biological, physical and/or structural, and potential adverse consequences for the combined federal power and transmission system."

BPA said that since 1978, more than $15 billion has been spent on fish recovery and mitigation in the FCRPS. It noted that survival rates range between 92 percent and 96 percent of the yearling Chinook salmon and steelhead smolts at the four lower Snake River Dams.

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