News from the Front #45:  

New Lows for the Northwest Power Planning Council

"I am concerned that this Council, mandated to consider conservation first and conventional generation last, may succumb to a no-growth philosophy.  This would be most unwise, since the region's past inability to build new generation has been a major factor in the present shortage."

                       Congressman Moorhead (CA), Congressional Record H9849 (daily ed. Sept. 29, 1980)

Back in 1980, Congress passed the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act, bringing Soviet-style central planning to the Pacific Northwest.  Now, after twenty years of planning, the lights are going out, as government command-and-control planning has its inevitable consequences.  Given the proliferation of energy regulations and regulators, there is a  target-rich environment for blame, but Northwest Power Planning Council is surely a contender.  

The Council is composed of eight gubernatorial appointees from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, and  members with common sense appear to be in the minority.  Worse still, the Council employs a large staff whose worldviews are, for the most part, rigorously and laughably politically-correct.  The staff's approach to energy planning, and the approach of the majority of Council members, is to de-industrialize the Pacific Northwest, a process they call "conservation".  

On March 9, 2001, The Oregonian published an editorial trumpeting the views of John Harrison, as spokesman for the Northwest Power Planning Council.  Mr. Harrison is the very model of a modern Council staff member.  As a public information officer, his duties include such important tasks as attending "Eco-Ministry" conferences at which participants spread lies and misinformation about Columbia River dams and salmon.  Mr. Harrison even appeared before the Catholic Bishops to deliver an eloquent lament about Columbia Basin Tribes, offering his opinion that river management was fraught with "moral issues".  The Oregonian and other Regional papers apparently wish to turn generating electricity into a moral dilemma, the better to sell papers.

The dilemma is that this year, for the first time, the Bonneville Power Administration will go broke if it implements the demands of the Salmon Recovery Empire and makes its regular payments to the Treasury.  BPA is afraid that Congress will complain if it resorts to the long-standing practice of deferring Treasury payments in low water years, so BPA now  proposes to trim some of its grotesquely wasteful flow augmentation and spill programs.   To protect the fish, BPA would expand the program to barge juvenile salmon downstream.  

Denying the Benefits of Smolt Transportation

No one with any adherence to objective reality could deny that maximizing smolt transportation is the only rational choice for river managers this year.  River flows may be the lowest since detailed measurements were taken beginning in 1929.  The closest historical analogue is 1977, and the results of the transportation experiment that year were striking.  None of the fish in the control group of fish left in the river returned at all.  In 1973, when water conditions were also bad, two studies showed that 13.8 and 18.4 times as many fish that were barged returned, as compared to the control groups in the river.  (In ordinary water years, the benefit of transportation is "only" 2 to 1.)

But barging is not P.C.  And since the majority of Council members and the staff are P.C., Mr. Harrison tells The Oregonian: "We're not convinced the fish do better in the river than in the barges, or that they do better in the barges than in the river."  

Positions like this are why no one in any position of responsibility ought to care -- or perhaps does care -- what the Council thinks.   Maybe that is why the Council issued a press release on February 27, 2001 headlined "Power Planning Council asks to be involved in federal river, dam operating decisions this year".  When was the last time you heard of a public agency issuing press releases begging to be involved in public policy decisions?

This will be a tough year for salmon, and migration survival in the river may well drop to the lowest point measured since Endangered Species Act listings focused close attention on salmon survival.  But those lamenting this fact have no idea whether the low survival will be above or below survival levels in a natural, undammed river.  In all probability, many fish will die, but far fewer than Nature would have demanded, because of the benefits of barging.  Maybe I'm just dumb, but I don't see a moral problem there.

The Spread of EDT

Other portents confirm the Council's emerging status as an Regional embarrassment.  A blue-ribbon scientific panel appointed by the National Marine Fisheries Service recently had occasion to review the Council staff's "Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment" (EDT) computer modeling.  EDT, say the scientists, "exemplifies how modeling should not be done", a conclusion I reached a year ago.  The NMFS scientists recognized the obvious:  the model is entirely subjective opinions dressed up in pseudo-scientific garb and it thus "appears impossible to validate this model by observations or experiments".  In other words,  business as usual for the Council -- pronouncements untethered by reality.  "The idea that 'opinion and 'expert testimony' might substitute for rigorous scientific methodology", say the NMFS scientists, "is anathema to a serious modeler and clearly represents a dangerous trend."  It is not an overstatement to call EDT "dangerous"; computer models that cloak untested and untenable assumptions in a mantle of scientific objectivity constitute a cancer spreading on the body of science.

As former Council staffers spread out to take control of the positions in the ever-growing Salmon Recovery Empire they help create, they cause the cancer to metastasize across the Pacific Northwest.  For example, another model staffer, James Middaugh, was instrumental in causing the Council to create and fund a propaganda newsletter to compete with the non-P.C. Fishletter.  Having moved on to the City of Portland, a P.C. bastion, he brings the Council's junk science to the City lock, stock and barrel.  The City of Portland now proposes to adopt EDT as the basis for its "Framework for Watershed and Conservation Planning".  

Regional newspapers, having trumpeted the dam-busting output of the EDT model, say nothing about NMFS' extraordinarily critical review of it.   And the citizens of the Pacific Northwest sleep on, as the Region's public officials make policy choices that careen further and further off the road of science.  

James Buchal, March 14, 2001

You have permission to reprint this article, and are encouraged to do so. The sooner people figure out what's going on, the quicker we'll have more fish in the rivers.

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