Republicans to question senior Biden officials regarding measures aimed at key hydroelectric dams

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to interrogate five high-ranking federal officials on Tuesday morning about the Biden administration’s confidential agreement with environmental organizations aiming to breach or dismantle hydroelectric dams in Washington.

The hearing, titled “Unveiling President Biden’s Strategy to Dismantle the Snake River Dams and its Adverse Effects on the United States,” will feature testimonies from Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and top officials from the Department of Energy, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Bonneville Power Administration.

Republicans are convening the hearing to scrutinize the Biden administration’s initiatives directed at four federally operated dams situated on Washington’s Snake River, which flows through Idaho and Washington before merging with the Columbia River and eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean. This comes a month after the White House engaged in a legal settlement with environmental groups and tribes to explore breaching, potentially opening the door for future actions in this direction.

“What’s worse is that despite my repeated calls for transparency, the White House actively and deliberately left out the voices of those who depend on the river system most. Dozens of stakeholders and utility companies practically begged to be heard in this process … only to be turned away, shut out, and ignored,” Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., will say during her opening remarks, which were shared in advance with Fox News Digital.

“I’m sure our witnesses will say they spoke to everyone, but they’re not being honest. I have heard from many who the administration didn’t talk to, and I will be submitting letters from them for the record,” she will continue. “This process was never about getting results for endangered salmon. It was a reckless pursuit of an activist agenda … a misguided mission to tear out the dams … with no scientific data to back it up.”

In the recent accord, the White House Council on Environmental Quality revealed that tribes and environmental groups, who had filed a lawsuit against the federal government to forcefully breach the dams, have agreed to suspend their litigation until 2028. The agreement also entails a commitment of $1 billion for the restoration of wild fish and a strategy to establish new clean energy projects managed by tribes.

The White House emphasized that the agreed investments would safeguard ongoing energy reliability, transportation, and other essential services presently provided by the operational status of the four dams “in the event” of a breach. Officials refrained from endorsing a breach plan as advocated by activists, clarifying that such a decision would necessitate congressional approval.

“President Biden understands that the Columbia River System is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest, and for the first time under his direction, federal agencies are putting all hands on deck to support regional and tribal efforts to restore wild salmon in the region,” Mallory said on Dec. 14 after the agreement was announced.

Environmentalists contend that the Snake River dams have devastated salmon and steelhead populations by obstructing natural migration routes. Conversely, local advocates emphasize the dams’ crucial role in energy production and facilitating essential agricultural transportation.

Constructed in the 1960s and 1970s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure navigability for barge transportation along the Snake River, these dams have evolved into significant providers of reliable clean energy, contributing approximately 8% of the state’s electricity—serving millions of residents—with a substantial total capacity of 3,000 megawatts.

Moreover, these dams support the transportation of around 60% of Washington’s annual wheat exports and 40% of the nation’s total wheat production through barges navigating the Columbia River system.

In response, Republicans, energy industry groups, and agriculture advocates criticized the Biden administration for its recent agreement, asserting that it sets the stage for dam breaching. They also condemned the White House for engaging in undisclosed negotiations, excluding public input in the decision-making process.

“Apparently, a few unelected bureaucrats at the White House think they know better than the people whose lives depend on them,” McMorris Rodgers will say in her opening remarks at the hearing Tuesday.

McMorris Rodgers, along with Congressional Western Caucus Chair Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Representatives Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore., and Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, introduced the Defending Against Manipulative Negotiators Act last week. This proposed legislation aims to prohibit the use of federal funds for supporting or studying the breach or modification of the Snake River dams.

“The Biden Administration has crossed the line with its blatant, hypocritical assault on the Lower Snake River Dams,” said Newhouse said in a statement. “This Administration, since its campaign, claims to advocate for green energy solutions, yet disregards that notion when told to by manipulative environmental activists who do not understand how critical the dams are to the Pacific Northwest and a clean energy future.”

The upcoming hearing’s second panel on Tuesday is anticipated to feature testimonies from National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission Casey Chumrau, and Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association Neil Maunu. All three individuals have expressed criticism of the actions taken by the Biden administration.

“The ill-conceived Lower Snake River Dams settlement agreement was brokered in secret, without contributions from electric providers,” Matheson will say in his opening remarks. “As a result, it threatens electric reliability for communities in the Pacific Northwest that rely on hydropower. It also violates the trust these communities put in the federal government.”

“The commitments made by the U.S. government in this document were reached without adequate input from stakeholders who would ultimately be impacted by the decisions,” Maunu will add. “Due to this process’s secrecy, agriculture voices were largely excluded from discussion regarding impacts and commitments for funding and mitigation.”