Congressional Republicans recently introduced a bill which would severely restrict environmental reviews of projects on our nation's rivers. For years and years, mostly Republican legislators, have been scapegoating requirements for discharge permits in water, environmental impact statements, and requirements for wetland or wildlife delineations. They assert that these "tapping on the brakes" cost developers way too much money and time (which is money).
Since we perform some of these reviews, it is somewhat of a conflict for us to comment, except to say most consultants work diligently for their client's interests and seek to find ways to make a project work without destroying the site or river or wildlife. Tapping on the brakes is a good thing, it helps everyone take a breath and think about the cumulative impacts as well as long term consequences of either doing the project or not.
It's simply wrong to scapegoat these vital laws and seek to weaken them by claiming they cost jobs. But ideology has taken root with many of our policy makers and promises have been made to some industries to give them the store.
Can we get an impact statement on that?
As those of use concerned about salmon recovery watch the dismal numbers of salmon return to the Columbia River and its tributaries, irrigators have asked the Trump Administration to convene what is called the "God Squad." It is a provision in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that allows the President to convene a committee of cabinet members to then "play God" in making choices about literally the life or extinction of a particular species. Essentially, the God Squad is convened to roll back and rescind protections for a species that has been listed threatened or endangered under the ESA.
As it is in the Pacific Northwest, we have significant stresses and strains on salmon and steelhead. They once were so plentiful that Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that they believed they could walk across the abundant salmon as if they were protruding rocks in the Columbia. Now, we consider it a success when more than one Sockeye returns to Red Lake in Idaho.
The picture above is of a suction dredge, left abandoned in a critical steelhead spawning tributary of the Wenatchee River. This is a violation of the minuscule rules for hobby mining in Washington. Over the course of the "mining season" we find violation after violation of the rules. Our wildlife agency, strapped for money, not only doesn't have the will to enforce the regulations but barely the manpower. And this dredge, along with dozens of others, cause enormous cumulative impacts on these critical steams and rivers.
Yet, the hobby miners insist that even the minuscule regulations, like the minuscule regulations on irrigators in Kennewick, Washington, are too much and impact their ability to do what they want.
Someday, very soon, we will be wistfully telling our children about salmon and steelhead. Or we can be telling them about how we all worked together, each making sacrifices, to help these iconic fish return. Now, which way would God want it?