Harney Electric Manager Fred Flippence urges Governor Brown to adopt the “Harney County way”

By Ted Case

The lower Snake River dams were lauded by the Bonneville Power Administration as a critical power source during the storms that battered the Pacific Northwest in February. Photo courtesy of BPA

What follows this article is an editorial Harney Electric Cooperative Manager Fred Flippence submitted to the Burns Times-Herald urging Oregon Governor Kate Brown to collaborate on the operations of the federal hydropower system in the Pacific Northwest.

In his op-ed, Flippence highlights how a collaborative approach in Harney County through the High Desert Partnership helped resolve several controversial environmental issues—without going to court.

Flippence expressed optimism for the Columbia Basin Collaborative (CBC). Organized by the governors of Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, the CBC’s mission was to put an end to litigation and bring the region’s sovereign tribes, states, and stakeholder groups together to facilitate recovery of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead.

Ironically, one week after the first CBC meeting, the state of Oregon filed a lawsuit in district court over the federal government’s latest hydropower operations plan for the Columbia River Basin and the biological opinion.

“We maintain that the decision to simultaneously pursue litigation while co-leading this process is wholly inappropriate,” said Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners. “For the CBC to be successful, diverse stakeholder groups must partner in good faith and with open minds as we look for a holistic approach to salmon recovery. Unfortunately, Governor Brown’s decision to reestablish Oregon as a plaintiff places all aspects of this collaborative process in question.”

Burns Times-Herald Guest editorial: Governor Brown should collaborate – not litigate

By Fred Flippence Harney Electric Cooperative manager

Governor Kate Brown and her administration should spend more time in Harney County. And not only for our incredible people and natural resources, but for our enviable track record of tackling some of our area’s hardest challenges without immediately heading to the courtroom.

We collaborate through such organizations as the High Desert Partnership on thorny issues such as forest management and wetland protection – with proven results. Collaboration is hard, and often messy. But it works – a lesson the State of Oregon has yet to learn when it comes to the Columbia River Basin and federal hydroelectric projects such as the lower Snake River dams.

As manager of Harney Electric Cooperative, I oversee a massive 20,000 square mile territory in Oregon and Nevada. Our cooperative provides electricity to over 1,200 hardworking farmers, ranchers, and families. As a customer of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Harney Electric is proud that our electricity supply is nearly carbon-free. As I told Governor Brown over Zoom last summer, the lower Snake River dams are an integral part of BPA’s hydropower system, annually producing 1,000 average megawatts of reliable, carbon-free energy – enough to power over 800,000 Northwest homes.

Yet, Governor Brown still wants to breach the Snake River dams, claiming their removal will “simultaneously address both the orca and salmon recovery dilemma” in the region. The State of Oregon has recently filed a notice of intent to sue in federal court to ultimately achieve this goal. It is of note that they filed the paperwork just before Thanksgiving with no press statement, during the height of the pandemic. I’d be sheepish too, as Governor Brown has also – with considerable fanfare – convened a “Four State Process” with the governors of Washington, Idaho, and Montana to begin a historic collaboration to restore healthy salmon populations to the Columbia Basin.

It is indeed a curious approach. For as we say in Harney County, “If you’re litigating; you’re not collaborating.” A meaningful and comprehensive four-state collaboration will require hard work by all stakeholders to identify practical solutions to tough problems. However, Oregon’s reliance on litigation before the collaboration has even started is not only disappointing it undermines the legitimacy of the entire process.

Instead, Governor Brown should embrace the Harney County way and work with all stakeholders to address the wide range of issues related to the Columbia River Basin. Obviously, we need to talk about protecting our iconic salmon species. But we should also discuss how breaching the Snake River dams blows a hole in Oregon’s carbon reduction goals as wide as the vast sagebrush landscape in southeastern Oregon. Moreover, we need to discuss how the region’s federal hydropower program is vital to the economy of rural Oregon and supports vulnerable communities by providing affordable, reliable electricity.

We share Governor Brown’s goals for a “more sustainable future for salmon and steelhead, while concurrently maintaining economic growth, necessary flood management for the Pacific Northwest, and protecting the viability of the hydropower system that has long provided the foundation of affordable energy for the region.”

These are all worthwhile objectives, but as we have learned in Harney County, there is one place you will not find them – in the courtroom.