Welcome American Rivers Council - And 'Tear Down That Iron Gate'


Please give a warm welcome to Ms. Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers and our newest guest poster. We met Rebecca via the Letters to the Editor page of the Wall Street Journal and immediately emailed her, asking if she'd like to do an encore or so with us. She agreed; and it looks like it's going to be a Class V rapids of ideas from now on. Rebecca says:-

"There's something about environmental ideas that seems to drive a certain segment of the right wing just a little bit nuts.

How else to explain when they toss overboard all of their free-market principles, fiscal discipline, science, economics, and even their treasured skepticism about global warming, all to come to the full-throated defense of a handful of obsolete dams?

A notable example of the genre is Shika Dalmia's opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which the Reason Foundation helpfully spirits out from behind the Journal's subscription-only firewall here. She argues that those of us who believe that some of America's most outmoded dams should be removed ought to be ashamed, as we apparently don't care enough about global warming. While I'm thrilled to welcome the Wall Street Journal and the Reason Foundation into the ranks of global warming activists, saying that all dams should be preserved forever is as absurd as saying all dams are bad and should be removed.

Leaving aside for now the fact that many huge hydro dams in the tropics — including Ms. Dalmia's native India — are even worse than coal for emitting global warming pollution, the argument is absurd on its face.

It's time for a quick reality break: American Rivers has signed dozens of agreements enabling hydroelectric dams to continue generating thousands of megawatts of electricity on rivers around the country. We have even supported expanding electricity generation at some dams — when it makes environmental and economic sense.

But hundreds of dams across the country are coming out because they are public safety hazards or they are no longer economical for their owners to operate.

For decades, hydro dams have been subsidized by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, and are now used to subsidize all sorts of private interests. Is the Reason Foundation horrified when an outmoded 100 year-old factory closes its doors? Of course not. But that's exactly the sort of irrational economic logic Ms. Dalmia proposes should protect all dams everywhere into the infinite future. Hey, don't just take my word for it; the Columbia Journalism Review wrote a scathing critique of Ms. Dalmia's piece, calling her argument "feeble and premature."


On the Klamath River, dam removal would help restore salmon runs, the backbone of local coastal economies. Commercial salmon boats won't be the only winners when those dams come out; there are ways to do it that make excellent business sense for PacificCorp, the dams' owner, and economic sense for PacifiCorp's ratepayers.

The California Energy Commission found that with the money PacifiCorp would spend to modernize the dams, the company could replace the entire Klamath project generation with a 170 megawatt wind plant, a 100 megawatt solar plant, or it could make efficiency upgrades to its distribution system. In short, removing the Klamath dams can be done without increasing greenhouse gas emissions or raising electric rates a single penny.

I hope it's a relief to Ms. Dalmia and other free-market conservatives that they can keep their principles and fight global warming at the same time. Welcome aboard."

Rebecca Wodder
President, American Rivers

About American Rivers:
American Rivers is the only national organization standing up for healthy rivers so our communities can thrive. Through national advocacy, innovative solutions and our growing network of strategic partners, we protect and promote our rivers as valuable assets that are vital to our health, safety and quality of life.

Image credit:: American Rivers, and Klamath Restoration Council