by Patrick McGann, editor-at-large
I grew up in a politically active family in Illinois where political abnormality is the norm. I have been seriously engaged in the American political process probably since the age of seven (“All the Way with LBJ!”) and I have to say that what Jay Inslee, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray just did takes the cake for perplexity. And that is saying something in the context of witnessing the Pennywise horror sequel of the last four years.
In a joint statement which included a bunch of words, very little meaning, and transparency darker than Skagit flats mud, Jay, Maria and Patty outlandishly trashed Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s bold idea to breach the lower four dams on the Snake River. What? WHAT? Right there in the Seattle Times was the headline. WHAT? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!
Just 13 weeks before, Jay said this about the plan: “Washington welcomes Rep. Simpson’s willingness to think boldly about how to recover Columbia and Snake River salmon in a way that works for the entire region and invests — at a potentially transformative level — in clean energy, transportation and agriculture.”
Two years ago, Patty strongly opposed a dead-ender bill sponsored by that charmer Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that would prohibit breaching of the Snake dams, saying she wanted to see more data on how to make breaching possible. Jay and Patty get it. At least they once did. Maria?
Maria has been blessed with a 100% rating from the League of Conservation voters since the first day she stepped on Congressional marble. However, on the environmental spectrum she occupies a space that’s kind of like Adlai Stevenson’s position on the people. “I like the people in the abstract but not in the concrete.” She’s really big on little things, the arcane triple-bank-shot thinking that comes from little groups with big lawyers. You know who I mean. And she’s really not quite there on the big ones. Her cluelessness on Pacific Northwest salmon, for example is just strange. It’s like she’s got a little bird on her shoulder telling her up is thataway and here is over there. And I don’t know but I think I know who that is.
In my experience, when seasoned folksy politicians like Jay and Patty walk out in public and whistle loud to get everybody’s attention and then drop trou and moon their most loyal fans in a fabulous flip flop, there is usually somebody back there looking out a window with a smug smirk and somebody’s jewels in her pocket.
Maria Cantwell is a, if not the, primary author of the Biden infrastructure legislation. Let that soak in a bit. That proposal is a really big deal. It will propel America — for realz — into the 21st century. No question about it. It is Rooseveltian in scope and scale. It is what Eisenhower was to highways and the auto industry, and what Kennedy was to the space program on whose shoulders stands Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and the American high-tech industry … of which Maria is a product. This is her moment. Her shot. If you’re a Democrat and you’re thinking about doing something that might possibly be perceived as giving even a smidge of ammunition to the people happier ineffectually snarling and sniveling in China’s shadow, you might find the point of one of Maria’s shiny pumps in your nether regions.
What makes Simpson’s dam removal proposal more realistic than anything we’ve seen in past is the opportunity to be included in that legislation. That crunching sound back a few months ago was Mike’s wingtips stepping on the toe of one of those shiny pumps. Add in some billions to pet Washington state infrastructure projects that might be siphoned off to Simpson’s $33 billion dam removal mitigation plan and the nonsense starts to make sense. A little twitter from some abstruse greenie who was already on record opposing Simpson’s plan would be the cherry on top of a chit sundae.
A free flowing Snake River is key to Columbia River salmon restoration. Columbia River salmon are key to easing the commercial harvest fiasco in Alaska and British Columbia. I don’t think Jay and Patty understand that very well and I’m sure as the dickens that Maria doesn’t. Oregon, Washington, Idaho taxpayers and all American taxpayers are spending billions every year just to keep chinook and sockeye from blinking out forever.
Agriculture and energy interests in Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington feel threatened by Simpson’s plan and dubious that his mitigation funding ideas will work. That’s the blunt opposition and the absolutely reliable enemies of Jay, Patty and Maria. It makes no sense that these three would spit, let alone humiliate themselves like this, to appease them. But there is another industry, a mini-industry really, that is threatened by breaching those dams. Green lawyers and the nominal non-profits that support them.
Back in late March I read a story in Boise’s Idaho Statesman that gave me a similar reaction to the Seattle Times’ story on Jay’s, Patty’s and Maria’s big public poop. The headline read: “Some green groups oppose lower Snake River dam removal plan.” What? WHAT!? WTF! These are those groups: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Partnership, Cascadia Wildlands Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Deschutes River Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Native Fish Society, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Oregon Wild, Spokane Riverkeeper, The Conservation Angler, WaterWatch of Oregon, Wild Fish Conservancy, Willamette Riverkeeper, WildEarth Guardians.
See any you recognize? When I saw the list, I thought, oh, yeah, well of course. But then I read the rationale. They do have a point about a part of Simpson’s plan, a 25-year plus moratorium on new ESA and Clean Water Act lawsuits against the lower main Columbia dams. That is, however, a point of negotiation. No legislation, not even Biden’s infrastructure proposal, survives Congress 100% as written. It makes no sense to oppose an otherwise rational and realistic plan that stands to benefit all Pacific Northwest salmon so significantly. Unless it really isn’t the salmon you’re concerned about, right?
What if it is your lawsuits you’re really concerned about? The tribes sue. Commercial fishers sue. The fishing public sues. They all support Simpson’s plan. But the difference is that these other groups see litigation as an act of desperation taken against existential threat, not a primary modus operandi. Lawsuits are all these groups have. Take that away and they’re screwed. And how could salmon be more important than THAT? Right?
If you are a U.S. senator and don’t have a good way to weigh cost and benefit on salmon proposals and someone like Kurt Beardslee from Washington state’s Wild Fish Conservancy texts you, “This is bad. Kill it,” whatcha gonna do? And what if there is some strategery, as GW called it, involved like your shining moment in the sun as the author of the biggest legislative initiative in almost a century? Would that be worth getting your pals Jay and Patty in a headlock with a little tough love?
I think so. But because everybody’s talking and nobody’s making any sense I have to admit, it’s just conjecture. I could be totally wrong. Doubt it, tho.