Now Off Case, Judge Weighs In on Dams
SEATTLE — A federal judge who spent a decade presiding over one of the most contentious environmental court fights in the Northwest — the fate of endangered salmon in the Columbia River Basin and four hydroelectric dams that interrupt their migration — has said in a recorded interview that the dams should be removed to help the fish.
“I think that we need to take those dams down,” the judge, James A. Redden of Federal District Court in Portland, Ore., told Idaho Public Television in an interview for a documentary to be released this summer. “And I’ve never ordered them, you know, or even tried to order them, that you’ve got to take those dams down, but I have urged them to do some work on those dams and they have done it.”
Judge Redden, who is 83, handed over the case to another judge last fall, and his statement has no legal impact. But his comments stirred debate among those fighting to protect salmon and hydropower supporters, and they added context to his past rulings. Although he has never publicly said he favors removing the four dams, on the lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, he has rejected parts of three plans the federal government has proposed for saving salmon.
All of the proposals, under Republican and Democratic administrations, left intact the four dams, which provide power but also affect the ability of adult fish to make their way to spawning groups up river and young ones to make it to the Pacific Ocean. Advocates say other sources of power, including wind, can compensate for the lost hydropower.
“It’s not very difficult,” the judge said of taking down a dam. “It’s a lot easier than it is putting them up. But even taking any one dam would be helpful.”
Salmon advocates have long pushed to have the four dams removed and some hoped that Judge Redden would eventually order that. Congress would have to approve of removing the dams, which are federally owned.
“I’m happy about what I’ve done although I know I haven’t done enough,” the judge said. “But there’s not much a judge can do. But you can raise hell, and I did.”