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Environmentalists, lawmakers press Biden to pick a side in dam removal fight

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(The Center Square) – Four organizations have banded together to fire a warning shot across the bow of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and their next shot could land the Corps in court.

Columbia Riverkeeper, the Idaho Conservation League, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Idaho Rivers United have teamed up to rectify what they see as a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The letter provides “60 days’ notice of our intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for causing hot water conditions that kill and injure Snake River sockeye salmon,” citing hot water conditions that they claim are the cause of dwindling sockeye salmon populations.

They put the dam network, operated by the Corps, at the root cause of those water conditions.

Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said the environmentalists are ignoring reality.

“Dam-breaching advocates don’t care about the facts. If they did, they would see how fundamentally flawed their new lawsuit is,” said McMorris Rodgers in a news release addressing the intent letter. “Only Congress has the authority to change the way these federally-managed dams operate.”

That assertion seems to be backed up by the Biden administration itself, as the administration’s own Council on Environmental Quality had this to say in the official congressional record back in May.

“In securing the current stay of litigation, the Federal Government agreed to explore lower Snake River habitat restoration opportunities, “including but not limited to migration corridor restoration through breaching the four lower Snake River dams,” which would require Congressional authorization.”

The request for information added to the congressional record went on to ask what “restoration” even means in this context, as not all parties involved agree.

For their part, the consortium of court-seeking conservationists took a different view of that congressional authority.

“The U.S. Supreme Court in TVA v. Hill specifically explained that congressional authorizations and appropriations for federal dams do not create exceptions to the Endangered Species Act or prevent injunctions prohibiting such dams,” the letter from the conservation groups states, essentially calling out Congress for violating their own laws.

McMorris Rodgers wants the Biden administration to declare sides in this dam battle.

“It’s time for the president to pick a side: Does he stand by his agencies’ assessment that breaching requires Congressional authorization, or will he cave to the demands of those who will never be satisfied until the dams are ripped out? The clock is ticking,” said McMorris Rodgers when responding to the letter of intent.

The president has yet to respond directly to McMorris Rodgers.

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