Friday, October 17, 2008

Breaching Dams

Breaching Dams

The Sali for Congress campaign claims
that Walt Minnick (the Democrat whose TV ads won't ever say that he is a Democrat) supported breaching the dams on the Lower Snake River back in 2003:
Minnick was quoted by the AP in 2003 as saying, “We only have hopefully one more lawsuit to say as a matter of law that if we’re going to recover the salmon that dams have to come down now.”
I can't find that quote anywhere online. I don't find it hard to believe--but I would like something a bit more authoritative than "quoted by the AP in 2003."

I understand the arguments about the dams. If we were deciding whether to build those dams today, the case for them might not be so strong. There is a strong argument that the land saved from flooding downstream isn't much more than the land flood upstream, and that if you look at the energy that went into building those dams, perhaps the total power output by hydroelectricity wouldn't be so compelling.

But we don't have the time machine option. The energy constructing those dams? It was spent. The power that comes out of them now is free. Breaching the dams won't get the energy that was spent back out.

There are environmental costs to having those dams. But not having them also has environmental costs, because we either start living in caves again, or we have to build some alternative power plants.

Right now, environmentalists want wind power (unless it interferes with their view of Cape Cod) and solar power. But I wouldn't count on that being their claim in ten or fifteen years, when they will come up with some new reason why today's "look the future" power sources are suddenly evil--and we have to go back to living in caves.

UPDATE: A reader handed me a AP article that appeared in the Twin Falls Times-News, August 20, 2003, p. B01, that discusses the efforts to breach the dams, and quotes Minnick:
KETCHUM -- Ten years ago Bruce Babbitt got taken to the woodshed by Bill Clinton for impulsively saying he wanted to see a dam destroyed before he left the Department of Interior. Tuesday night, Babbitt, the former Secretary of Interior, glanced out at the Big Wood River in Ketchum and proclaimed that the dams were about to come down to save wild salmon.  "They've got to come down," he said, adding that economic arguments are trivial. "The question is how. 

Steve Mashuda, attorney for Earthjustice, told those in attendance that his organization plans to bring litigation against Idaho Power Company and others to make them realize the cost of keeping dams in place. "We will have salmon recovery in the upper Snake River in the near future. And I don't just mean a few, but millions," added Walt Minnick, a salmon recovery advocate from Boise. "We only have hopefully one more lawsuit to say as a matter of law that if we're going to recover the salmon that dams have to come down now." 
That seems to settle the question. Minnick is part of the crowd that considers economic questions "trivial"--usually a sign that someone is so rich that they no longer understand that real people have to have real jobs.

UPDATE 2: I mentioned that in 10-15 years, environmentalists will be opposing what they theoretically support today, to force the peasants back into living in caves. A reader points me to evidence that we don't need to wait that long:
So far the federal Bureau of Land Management has received applications for more than 130 projects in the desert Southwest that could occupy more than 1 million acres of land. A million acres is more than 1,500 square miles. On the other hand, the Mojave Desert measures over 50,000 square miles. According to one estimate, if all these projects were built they could supply enough electricity to fuel 20 million homes.
While some national environmental groups recognize that such trade-offs are necessary, some local groups are fiercely fighting the development of utility-scale solar power generation in the desert. The California-based Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy argues that the push for Big Solar promotes the "permanent destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine public lands designated for multi-purpose use that belong to the people." The Alliance also accuses the development of solar power in the desert of "wilderness killing, unacceptable groundwater depletion and the erosion of hard fought protections of public lands and private rights."
The San Diego-based Desert Protective Council also opposes the construction of a high voltage power line that San Diego Gas & Electric says it needs to transmit renewable power from a solar generation project planned for California's Imperial Valley. The power line would run through an existing right-of-way in a state park, but each of its 141 new towers would average 130 feet in height. "Our take has been from day one, 'Here we go again,'" said Terry Weiner, Imperial County conservation coordinator for the Desert Protective Council to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Here is where we can do everything out in the desert that we don't want to do in our own backyards in the city,'"
The Desert Protective Council has allies in this fight. "The idea that we're going to sacrifice critical pieces of our environment to protect other pieces of our environment seems a little ironic," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California Parks Foundation in the Los Angeles Times. "That's an irony I cannot accept. We have to find a way to do both." In other words, no trade-offs. These groups want renewable power to be generated locally, preferably by placing solar photovoltaic arrays on roofs.
"It's not just businesses that have slowed things down, it's not just Republicans that have slowed things down, it's also Democrats and also environmental activists sometimes that slow things down," declared a frustrated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) during a speech at Yale University this past spring. "They say that we want renewable energy but we don't want you to put it anywhere, we don't want you to use it." Schwarzenegger added, "I don't know whether this is ironic or absurd. But, I mean, if we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it."

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