From left, Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cliff Bentz, Mike Collins and Cathy McMorris Rodgers visited Ice Harbor Dam during their trip to Washington state. Photo courtesy of Ian Macari

For many Americans, congressional hearings are often seen as distant events detached from real world issues, usually reserved for lobbyists in ornate Capitol Hill committee rooms. Yet sometimes a congressional hearing comes to a local high school auditorium and focuses on a topic connected to our way of life.

Such was the case when U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz—chairman of the Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee—organized a fascinating, fact-based and local hearing on the future of the lower Snake River dams. It was a well-attended hearing at Richland High School in the Tri-Cities.

I made the trip alongside many Oregon electric co-op leaders, and we are glad we did. I have been involved in Snake River Dam issues for a long time and have written extensively about it in this magazine. But this hearing was perhaps the best complete argument I have heard on why these projects must be maintained.

Bentz organized an impressive array of witnesses who testified passionately on how breaching the lower Snake River dams would negatively impact agriculture, navigation and electric utility consumers.

The congressional panel, which also consisted of Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia, and Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, heard testimony from an array of federal officials. Bentz had clearly done his homework, and he pressed the federal agencies on their authority to breach the dams.

I also thought Bonneville Power Administration’s John Hairston made a powerful case on how the dams proved their worth during the extreme weather events—both hot and cold—that have hit the Northwest in the past few years.

I know this debate is highly contentious, and perhaps few minds will be changed by this information. However, I commend Bentz for bringing the U.S. Congress to the Northwest, making democracy a bit more accessible and shedding light on an issue that directly affects all of us who live here.

Executive Director Ted Case