by Caroline Griffith
On July 16, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a long-awaited judgement on the transfer of ownership of four dams on the lower Klamath River from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) for the purpose of removal. FERC approved partial transfer of ownership under the condition that PacifiCorp (a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway) remain a co-licensee. Though this approval still provides a path to dam removal, it leaves PacifiCorp in a position to potentially back out of the deal and opt to apply for full relicensing to operate the hydroelectric dams. The cost of relicensing the dams, and updating them to mitigate impacts to migratory fish, would outweigh the cost of removing them. Local tribes and conservationists have been pressing PacifiCorp to remove the dams for more than a decade.
Under a 2016 negotiated agreement, PacifiCorp had agreed to transfer ownership to KRRC, a non-profit that had been formed specifically to manage the dam removal. PacifiCorp was concerned about the financial liability of dam removal and the possibility of passing that on to ratepayers. Removing the four dams is expected to cost about $450 million. PacifiCorp has agreed to pay $200 million, and the project will get $250 million from a 2014 California water bond. That agreement was based on the license being fully transferred and the utility shielded from liability.
Though dam removal proponents say this decision still provides a path forward, PacifiCorp issued a statement after the ruling saying it was reviewing the decision, but that it had “been clear about the bedrock principles of ensuring customer protections” in the dam removal process — including full transfer of the license. This statement has left many concerned about the fate of the project.
The Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and conservation groups American Rivers, California Trout, Klamath Riverkeeper, Trout Unlimited, Save California Salmon and Sustainable Northwest issued the following statement:
“With every year that passes, Klamath River salmon edge closer to extinction. While we are gratified that PacifiCorp remains willing to talk, we can’t afford any more delays in this process. It’s time for Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp to do the right thing and allow this dam removal agreement to move forward.
“It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s in the financial interests of PacifiCorp’s ratepayers and Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders. The agreement offers PacifiCorp unprecedented liability protections and $250 million in public funding. Walking away from the agreement will put PacifiCorp ratepayers on the hook for all the risks and liabilities associated with fish kills, toxic algae blooms, lawsuits, and violations of Tribal rights. We urge Warren Buffet and PacifiCorp to end the delays and move the dam removal process forward immediately.”
Congressman Jared Huffman, chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, held a Congressional forum August 19 to address Klamath dam removal and pressed PacifiCorp representatives to say whether they would recommit to the removal process, and when. Scott Bolton, PacifiCorp’s senior vice president for external affairs, said they still see removal as a potential outcome, but they are concerned about passing liability onto ratepayers. To that, Huffman replied, “Everyone I talk to says there is no exposure,” he said. “You are not powerless to protect your ratepayers. Your ratepayers will be just fine.”
Klamath River tribes and conservation groups remain committed to removal and are asking supporters to call or email Warren Buffett at firstname.lastname@example.org and (402) 346-1400. There is also a petition at change.org/BuffettDamsKill.