Thursday, July 30, 2020

Newsom Appeals to Warren Buffett in Effort to Save Klamath Dam Removal Deal

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2020 at 1:58 PM

The four Klamath River dams slated for removal. - MILES EGGELSTON
  • Miles Eggelston
  • The four Klamath River dams slated for removal.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has appealed to one of the world's richest men in an effort to save the Klamath dam removal deal.

The groundbreaking deal to remove four hydroelectric dams along the lower Klamath River was reached in 2016 and would constitute one of the largest dam removal projects in history. Under the deal, the dams' owner Pacificorp would surrender them to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a nonprofit, which would then oversee their removal, which area tribes and environmental groups believe is crucial to saving salmon species. But on July 16 the Federal Energy Regulatory Corporation (FERC) complicated that plan, saying it would only allow Pacificorp to transfer the dam's licenses — a crucial step — if Pacificorp remained listed as a co-licensee, saying the nonprofit has "limited finances" and "no experience with hydropower dam operation or dam removal."

But Pacificorp spokesperson Bob Gravely told the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon, that the company is now concerned it may be exposed to liability if the costs of dam removal "spiral" beyond the allocated $450 million and that the company may just look to relicense the dams itself and continue operating them.

Yesterday Newsom appealed directly to Warren Buffett, the famous CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Pacificorp, in an effort to keep the power company from walking away from the deal.

click to enlarge Copco Dam on the Klamath River. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE U.S. DEPT. OF THE INTERIOR.
  • Photo courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
  • Copco Dam on the Klamath River.
"Since time immemorial, the indigenous peoples of the Klamath Basin have stewarded the Klamath River, the second-largest river in California and once the third-biggest salmon-producing river on the west coast," Newsom wrote in a letter. "It served as a centerpiece of community, culture and sustenance. Then beginning 100 years ago, construction of dams threatened this way of life, devastated salmon runs and altered the characteristics of the river itself. A century later, the river is sick, and the Klamath Basin tribes are suffering.

"We stand at an unprecedented moment of reckoning about our past and, more importantly, our future," Newsom continued. "In this moment, we have the opportunity and obligation to see ourselves clearly and decide whether we are living up to the values that I firmly believe all Californians stand for: equity, inclusion and accountability."

In a joint statement, the Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, American Rivers, California Trout, Klamath Riverkeeper, Trout Unlimited, Save California Salmon and Sustainable Northwest applauded Newsom's letter.

“With every year that passes, Klamath River salmon edge closer to extinction," reads the statement. "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 Buffett and PacifiCorp to end the delays and move the dam removal process forward immediately.”

For more on the historic dam removal agreement, which brought together a diverse group of stakeholders through years of negotiation, read past Journal coverage here and here.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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