Washington State News

Six players, both managers ejected after Mariners-Angels brawl
The Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners engaged in a bench- and bullpen-clearing brawl in the top of the second inning on Sunday in Anaheim, Calif. Angels pitcher Andrew Wantz hit Mariners outfielder Jesse Winker with a pitch on the right hip. Winker took a couple steps toward the mound before approaching the Los Angeles dugout. Wantz and Winker were ejected, as were Angels interim manager Phil Nevin, Mariners manag
Nick Allen's clutch hit helps A's take series over Royals
Nick Allen's two-run single in the seventh inning proved to be the difference in the Oakland Athletics' 5-3 win over the host Kansas City Royals on Sunday. Allen's hit enabled Oakland to take the rubber match of the three-game series, giving the A's their first series win since taking two of three games in Seattle from May 23-25. The Royals, who had taken two of three games when the teams met in Oakland last weekend, ha

Columbian Newspaper

Norway: Suspect in Pride Month attack won’t talk to police
Author: KOSTYA MANENKOV and JARI TANNER, Associted Press

OSLO, Norway — The suspect in a mass shooting during an LGBTQ festival in Norway has refused to explain his actions to investigators and will remain in pretrial custody for the next four weeks, police and his defense lawyer said Sunday.

The man, whom authorities described as a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran, — was arrested shortly after the shooting in Oslo’s nightlife district early Saturday. He is being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism.

Two people were killed and more than 20 were injured in what the Norwegian security service called an “Islamist terror act.”

Oslo police said they tried to question the suspect on Saturday and again on Sunday without success. Norwegian media identified him as Zaniar Matapour.

Matapour’s defense lawyer, John Christian Elden, told The Associated Press by email that his client refused to have his statement recorded and videotaped unless police released the entire recording to the public “with no time delay so it won’t be censored or manipulated.”

Recording interrogations is a standard police practice,

Elden said previously said his client did not deny being the shooter but had not divulged any motive. The lawyer said Sunday that Matapour did not object to remaining in custody for four weeks so would not appear in court on Monday.

In Norway, pre-trial detention hearings are normally held every four weeks.

Norway’s prime minister and members of the royal family joined mourners at a memorial service Sunday at Oslo Cathedral for the victims of the attack.

The gunman opened fire at three locations, including outside the London Pub, a popular gay bar in Oslo. Police investigators said it was too early to say whether the attacker specifically targeted the LGBTQ community.

A Pride parade scheduled for Saturday was called off because of the shooting.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said during Sunday’s memorial service that “the shooting in the night hours put an end to the Pride parade, but it did not stop the fight and the efforts to fight discrimination, prejudice and hatred.”

He also addressed Norway’s Muslim community.

“I know how many of you felt when it turned out that the perpetrator belonged to the Islamic community. Many of you experienced fear and unrest. You should know this: We stand together, we are one community and we are responsible for the community together,” Stoere said during the church service, which was also attended by Crown Princess Mette-Marit.

Norwegian media said Matapour arrived in Norway with his family from a Kurdish part of Iran in the 1990s.

He had a prior criminal record that included a narcotics offense and a weapons offense for carrying a knife. Investigators said they seized two weapons after Saturday’s shootings: a handgun and an automatic weapon.

The Norwegian domestic security agency, known by its Norwegian acronym PST, said Saturday it first became aware of the suspect in 2015 and later grew concerned he had become radicalized and was part of an unspecified Islamist network.

On Sunday, Norwegian media outlets reported that Matapour allegedly was in close contact with an Islamic extremist living in Norway whom Norwegian police had been aware of for a long time.

Conservative faction’s earmark requests illustrate GOP divide
Author: Aidan Quigley, CQ-Roll Call

WASHINGTON — The Republican Study Committee, the traditional bastion of conservative thought within the House Republican Conference, has taken an official position on the practice of earmarking funds in spending bills for lawmakers’ districts: It’s opposed.

To drive that point home, the fiscal 2023 budget blueprint that the 158-member group — representing about three-fourths of the conference — released earlier this month calls for an outright ban on the special home-state projects.

“Earmarks divert taxpayer resources to special interests, grease the wheels of Washington’s spending machine and set a poor example of fiscal responsibility,” reads the plan unveiled by RSC Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., and the group’s Budget and Spending Task Force.

But of the 16 signatories on that budget plan, six have themselves requested earmarks during the fiscal 2023 appropriations process that got off the ground last week: Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida, Fred Keller of Pennsylvania and Trent Kelly of Mississippi and Texas Reps. Troy Nehls, August Pfluger and Beth Van Duyne.

Within the broader group of RSC members, CQ Roll Call tallied up 83 who submitted requests this year for “community project funding,” as House Democrats have rebranded earmarks. That’s over half of the group’s membership, which underscores the ambivalence within the Republican Party over the long-reviled practice that returned last year after more than a decade.

The RSC budget plan is a sweeping yet nonbinding blueprint that calls for drastic changes: It envisions balancing the budget within seven years, all from nondefense programs as military spending would rise and taxes would be cut.

In short, there’s a lot for conservatives to like in the document, and it’s clear even some of its signatories weren’t endorsing every facet of it — such as the earmark ban.

Most of the budget plan’s sponsors didn’t respond to requests for comment. But Donalds couched his position on the topic as necessary to ensure proper oversight of taxpayer dollars.

“Why would I let the Biden administration decide where dollars are getting spent?” Donalds said in an interview. “They don’t know what they are doing over there.”

Growing support

The number of Republican earmark requesters grew in fiscal 2023, with 121 House Republicans requesting the rebranded “community project funding.” This represents nearly 60 percent of the conference and is up from 109 requesters a year earlier.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., reintroduced the practice with revamped transparency rules and a cap at 1 percent of discretionary spending last year.

Just 16 of 50 Senate Republicans have requested earmarks since they were restored, a figure that appears likely to decrease next year with high-profile retirements. Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said last week that some Republicans are pushing to strip earmarks out of the ongoing fiscal 2023 negotiations, even before they potentially take control of one or both chambers.

A freshman who didn’t request earmarks last year, Donalds led the pack of RSC budget signatories who requested earmarks with $72.7 million, largely driven by a $50 million request for terminal expansion work at Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers. He also sought funding for a sewer project in Naples and a community center for at-risk youth in Fort Myers, among other requests.

Donalds said he gained familiarity with member projects while serving in the Florida Legislature and said members are better than bureaucrats at weighing which projects in their districts deserve funding.

He said he signed on to the RSC budget long before the “community project funding” process began and had been weighing whether to request earmarks for a while.

“Where I come down is, when I was in the state Legislature, state legislatures do the exact same thing,” Donalds said. “Congress has given more of its authority to the executive branch, which in my view is not in the original intent of separation of powers.”

Van Duyne requested $41.6 million for fiscal 2023, including $10 million for projects at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. In the current year’s funding law, Van Duyne secured $15 million for three projects at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, two of which she was a co-sponsor on.

Van Duyne said in a statement that earmarks return power to local leaders from the administration. She said she established a community project funding board and invited every elected official in the district to participate in the process.

“I know the history of earmarks is one with problems and backdoor deals and no transparency,” she said. “Let me assure you that this is not the case in North Texas. This funding has already been budgeted for local projects and if we do not ask to allocate it to specific, effective projects, the Left will have no problem spending it in California or New York.”

Van Duyne worked to ensure the process is locally driven and transparent, spokesman Jack Colonnetta said in an emailed statement.

“Regarding the RSC budget, the Congresswoman is certainly not for earmarks as they were previously used,” Colonnetta said. “However, if there is a process in place, Beth feels it’s her responsibility as a representative to use it responsibly to allocate needed funding for North Texas that otherwise would be sent elsewhere or left on the table altogether.”

‘Issue No. 400’

Kelly requested $32.5 million in earmarks for fiscal 2023, including $9 million for a sewer project in his district and $8 million to dredge the Yalobusha River, which is west of Calhoun City, Miss. Last year, Kelly received $7.2 million, including $5 million for a highway project in Oxford.

Pfluger, who didn’t request earmarks last year, asked for $14.8 million, leading with $7 million for a highway overpass in Odessa.

Keller, who also didn’t request earmarks last year, had a single request, $8 million for improvements to the Great Williamsport Levee, while Nehls had three requests totaling just $2.75 million, primarily $2 million for a road widening project in Pearland, Texas. Last year, Nehls received $6.2 million, primarily for road expansion projects.

Earmarks for seven of the fiscal 2023 House appropriations bills had been released as of Tuesday.

Keller so far has received the $8 million he sought for the Williamsport project. Kelly has secured $19.1 million in earmarks, including $10 million extra tacked onto an Army Corps of Engineers request for a flood control project in Grenada Lake, Miss. Donalds has gotten $14.8 million worth of his requests in so far, including $5 million for a water project in Bonita Springs in southwest Florida. Pfluger has procured $500,000 for wildfire mitigation programs at Texas A&M University. Requests from Van Duyne and Nehls haven’t been funded yet.

The RSC budget was clear in its condemnation of earmarks, citing data from the practice’s previous iteration that showed appropriators received a disproportionate number of earmarks. “Earmarks inevitably flow to the districts of the most powerful and connected members of Congress,” the blueprint says.

Donalds said he didn’t know if Republicans would keep earmarks in the next Congress if the party takes control of the chamber after the midterms.

“If you’re going to talk about earmarks, it’s like issue No. 400 right now,” he said. “We’ll see what happens; the members will decide that.”

Destruction everywhere, help scarce after Afghanistan quake
Author: EBRAHIM NOROOZI and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press

GAYAN, Afghanistan — When the ground heaved from last week’s earthquake in Afghanistan, Nahim Gul’s stone-and-mud house collapsed on top of him.

He clawed through the rubble in the pre-dawn darkness, choking on dust as he searched for his father and two sisters. He doesn’t know how many hours of digging passed before he caught a glimpse of their bodies under the ruins. They were dead.

Now, days after a 6 magnitude quake that devastated a remote southeast region of Afghanistan and killed at least 1,150 people by authorities’ estimates, Gul sees destruction everywhere and help in short supply. His niece and nephew were also killed in the quake, crushed by the walls of their house.

The United Nations has put the death toll at 770 people but warned it could rise further. Either toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.

“I don’t know what will happen to us or how we should restart our lives,” Gul told The Associated Press on Sunday, his hands bruised and his shoulder injured. “We don’t have any money to rebuild.”

It’s a fear shared among thousands in the impoverished villages where the fury of the quake has fallen most heavily — in Paktika and Khost provinces, along the jagged mountains that straddle the country’s border with Pakistan.

Those who were barely scraping by have lost everything. Many have yet to be visited by aid groups and authorities, which are struggling to reach the afflicted area on rutted roads — some made impassable by landslides and damage.

Aware of its constraints, the cash-strapped Taliban have called for foreign assistance and on Saturday appealed to Washington to unfreeze billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s currency reserves. The United Nations and an array of international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send help.

China pledged Saturday nearly $7.5 million in emergency humanitarian aid, joining nations including Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in dispatching a planeload of tents, towels, beds and other badly needed supplies to the quake-hit area.

U.N. Deputy Special Representative Ramiz Alakbarov toured the hard-hit Paktika province on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine and tents. U.N. helicopters and trucks laden with bread, flour, rice and blankets have trickled into the stricken areas.

“Yesterday’s visit reaffirmed to me both the extreme suffering of people in Afghanistan and their tremendous resolve in the face of great adversity,” Alakbarov said, appealing for the repair of damaged water pipes, roads and communication lines in the area.

Without support, he added, Afghans “will continue to endure unnecessary and unimaginable hardship.”

But the relief effort remains patchy and limited due to funding and access constraints. The Taliban, which seized power last August from a government sustained for 20 years by a U.S.-led military coalition, appears overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues like debris removal in what is shaping up to be a major test of its capacity to govern.

Villagers have dug out their dead loved ones with their bare hands, buried them in mass graves and slept in the woods despite the rain. Nearly 800 families are living out in the open, according to the U.N.’s humanitarian coordination organization OCHA.

Gul received a tent and blankets from a local charity in the Gayan district, but he and his surviving relatives have had to fend for themselves. Terrified as the earth still rumbles from aftershocks like one on Friday that claimed five more lives, he said his children in Gayan refuse to go indoors.

The earthquake was the latest calamity to convulse Afghanistan, which has been reeling from a dire economic crisis since the Taliban took control of the country as the U.S. and its NATO allies were withdrawing their forces. Foreign aid — a mainstay of Afghanistan’s economy for decades — stopped practically overnight.

World governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration cut off the Taliban’s access to $7 billion in foreign currency reserves held in the United States.

As he toured the disaster site, Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi urged the White House to release the funds “at a time when Afghanistan is in the grips of earthquakes and floods” and to lift banking restrictions so charities can more easily provide aid.

Western donors have withheld longer-term assistance as they demand the Taliban allow a more inclusive rule and respect human rights. The former insurgents have resisted the pressure, imposing restrictions on the freedoms of women and girls that recall their first time in power in the late 1990s.

Now, around half the country’s 39 million people are facing life-threatening levels of food insecurity because of poverty. Most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months.

U.N. agencies and other remaining organizations have scrambled to keep Afghanistan from the brink of starvation with a humanitarian program that has fed millions and kept the medical system afloat. But with international donors lagging, U.N. agencies face a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization said it was stepping up surveillance of infections diseases in Afghanistan’s earthquake-hit areas. Afghanistan is one of the two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world.

Reeling from war and impoverished long before the Taliban takeover, the far-flung areas hit by last Wednesday’s earthquake are particularly ill-equipped to cope.

Some local businessmen have swung into action. The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment said on Sunday it had raised over $1.5 million for Pakitka and Khost provinces.

Still, for those whose homes have been obliterated, the help may not be enough.

“We have nothing left,” Gul said.

Bosnian Serb leader prays for Trump’s return, praises Putin
Author: Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs said Sunday he hoped former U.S. President Donald Trump would return to power and that the Serbs would “wait for appropriate global circumstances” to reach for their goal of seceding from Bosnia, which he called an “unsustainable state.”

Milorad Dodik, who was a rare European official to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war in Ukraine started in late February, made the comments at a gathering marking the start of a bloody breakup of Bosnia 30 years ago.

Bosnia went through a devastating 1992-95 war in which over 100,000 people died before a U.S.-brokered peace deal ended the conflict.

The peace deal, also known as the Dayton Accords, created Bosnian Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities tied together by joint Bosnian institutions and a triparate presidency of which Dodik is a member.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has aroused fears that the turmoil could spill over to the volatile Balkans, where Russia has maintained strong influence among fellow-Slavic Serbs.

Dodik, who has led a Bosnian Serb secessionist drive, said he was convinced that Serbs would soon make important decisions about their fate in Bosnia. He also expressed expectation that Trump would again lead the United States.

“For the first time in history, Serbs are waiting for time,” Dodik said. “We must be patient, understand time. Europe is inevitably confused, with its internal problems. I pray to God that Donald Trump comes to power in America again.”

During his presidency, Trump rarely spoke against the continuous attempts by Bosnian Serbs to destabilize Bosnia. After Joe Biden became president, Dodik was slapped with the U.S. and British sanctions over his proclaimed goal to split about half of Bosnia and join it with neighboring Serbia.

Dodik met Putin in Russia earlier this month, saying Sunday he was proud of the meeting.

“He told me only one thing, and that was, ‘We are not leaving our friends.’ It is the Russians who have not done us any harm,” Dodik said.

Dueling narratives of Arizona protests ended with tear gas
Author: JONATHAN J. COOPER and BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press

PHOENIX — Protests outside the Arizona Capitol over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that ended with a volley of tear gas were variously described Saturday as either peaceful or driven by anarchists intent on destruction.

Republican Senate President Karen Fann issued a news release describing it as a thwarted insurrection, while protesters called it a violent overreaction by police who they said acted without warning or justification.

Arizona Department of Public Safety statements said state troopers launched the gas as some in a group of 7,000 to 8,000 people that rallied at the Capitol on Friday night were trying to break into the state Senate. Lawmakers were working to finish their yearly session.

The vast majority of people were peaceful and state police said there were no arrests or injuries. While both abortion opponents and abortion rights backers were there, most of the crowd opposed the high court’s decision.

Police fired tear gas at about 8:30 p.m. as dozens of people pressed up against the glass wall at the front of the Senate building, chanting and waving signs backing the right to abortion. While most were peaceful, a handful of people were banging on the windows, and one person forcefully tried to kick in a sliding glass door.

That’s when SWAT team members with the Department of Public Safety stationed on the second floor of the old Capitol building fired the tear gas.

Video taken from inside the Senate lobby by Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita showed the scene. Another she took moments later showed state police in riot gear forming a line inside the building, facing protesters on the other side of the glass.

She said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday morning that the protesters were clearly trying to enter the locked building.

“They were aggressively banging on the windows in a way that at any moment it could break,” Ugenti-Rita said. “This wasn’t a knock on a window. I mean, they were trying to break the windows.”

Hundreds of protesters could been seen in her videos milling about the plaza between the House and Senate buildings, while about a hundred were closer, near the glass wall at the front of the Senate building.

“There was no other conclusion than they were interested in being violent,” she added. “I have no other takeaway than that. I’ve seen many protests over my years, in many different sizes and forms. I’ve never seen that ever.”

Some Republican lawmakers and influential figures on the right compared the incident to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, in which a violent mob battled police and entered the building in a failed attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

In Arizona, only a tiny fraction of the thousands assembled tried to break a door, the building was never breached and no one was injured.

Democratic state Rep. Athena Salman of Tempe, however, said those gassed were peaceful.

“A bunch of House and Senate Democrats voted to give these cops a huge pay raise,” said said on Twitter in a post showing police firing tear gas. “Some even called it historic. Remember that every time the cops gas peaceful protesters.”

State police said in a statement that what “began as a peaceful protest evolved into anarchical and criminal actions by masses of splinter group.” And they said they had issued multiple warnings for people to leave.

Police said gas was deployed “after protesters attempted to break the glass” and was later deployed again in a plaza across the street. Police said some memorials at the plaza were defaced.

No broken glass was visible at the Senate building after the crowd dispersed.

Salman said in an interview Saturday that police in Arizona have a long history of using unneeded force against people exercising the First Amendment rights to protest and then blaming them for causing the trouble. She pointed to Black Lives Matter and immigrant justice protests, and said she’s not surprised to see it at an abortion rights protest.

“Anything related to human rights they’re ultimately going to gas the crowd and then come up with cover stories justifying this excessive use of force,” Salman said.

State Senate Democrats issued a statement Saturday saying the vast majority of protesters were peaceful while noting that a small number tried to enter the building.

“We unequivocally condemn violence in all forms, and anxiously await the investigation results to explain the response of law enforcement,” the statement said.

They also criticized “right-wing media and lawmakers” who called it an “insurrection attempt,” and said they were “weaponizing this moment to deflect from the actions of January 6th.”

Republicans lawmakers had enacted a 15-week abortion ban in March over the objection of minority Democrats. It mirrors a Mississippi law that the Supreme Court upheld on Friday while also striking down Roe. A law dating from before Arizona became a state in 1912 that bans all abortions remains on the books, and providers across the state stopped providing abortions earlier Friday out of fear of prosecution.

The protester incident forced Senate lawmakers to flee to the basement for about 20 minutes, said Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada. Stinging tear gas wafted through the building afterward, and the proceedings were moved to a hearing room instead of the Senate chamber.

Fann was presiding over a vote for a contentious school vouchers expansion bill when she abruptly halted proceedings. Speeches backing or supporting the bill expanding the state’s school voucher program to all 1.1 million public school students were cut off, and the bill passed.

“We’re going into recess right now, OK?” Fann announced. “We have a security problem outside.”

The building was never breached, said Kim Quintero, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP leadership.

After the tear gas sent protesters fleeing, the Senate reconvened to vote on its final bills before adjourning for the year shortly after midnight. A faint smell of tear gas hung in the air.

Inslee asks voters to reject 3rd District candidates Joe Kent, Vicki Kraft
Author: Brennen Kauffman, The Daily News

Longview — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is urging Republican voters in Southwest Washington to reject Joe Kent and state Rep. Vicki Kraft in the upcoming Congressional primary because of their statements and actions questioning the outcome of the 2020 election.

In an interview with The Daily News on Thursday, the Democratic governor singled out the two Republican candidates by name as a “clear and present danger to democracy.” Kent, R-Yacolt, and Kraft, R-Vancouver, are two of the eight candidates running to unseat incumbent Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler from Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.

The two candidates have questioned the election results at both the national level and for Washington state specifically throughout their campaign appearances and have pushed to relitigate the state’s 2020 election count.

“We have candidates running for the U.S. Congress who are part of a continuing insurgency to ignore our election results. We are calling on all good Republicans and independents to come to the aid of democracy and reject these candidates who refuse to accept the results of the last election,” Inslee said.

No widespread voter fraud has been found in Washington, especially on the scale needed to flip the result for a reliably Democratic state. Joe Biden received roughly 800,000 more votes from Washingtonians than Donald Trump did during the 2020 election.

Kent signed onto multiple lawsuits filed by Washington Election Integrity Coalition United questioning Washington’s votes in the election. One of the larger suits was dismissed by the Washington state Supreme Court and the court fined the coalition and its attorney $28,000 for making baseless, unsupported claims.

Kent told The Daily News Friday that asking for election audits and opposing voting by mail was not the same as an insurgency.

“The people should be able to question the manner that our elections are conducted. Inslee’s an elected official, he should want to make sure we have full confidence and transparency in our elections,” Kent said.

Kraft did not respond to The Daily News’ phone calls or email requesting comment on Inslee’s statements by Saturday afternoon.

Kraft remains an active state representative, representing Vancouver and Clark County in District 17. Inslee acknowledged it was unusual for him to call out a sitting elected official as a threat to democracy and said he made the claims advisedly.

“Those candidates who refuse to honor our votes, which they have both done, are a clear and present danger to democracy and I’m here to raise a red flag,” Inslee said.

Kent and Kraft aren’t the only two people in the race who have questioned state election results. In a video posted on her campaign website, Republican candidate Heidi St. John claimed that mail-in ballots in Washington have been “rife with fraud” since Dino Rossi lost the recount for the governor’s race in 2004.

St. John added that the solution to the mail-in ballots was for more Republicans to be engaged and vote.

The other candidates in the 3rd Congressional District race are Oliver Black, of the American Solidarity Party from Longview; Chris Byrd, an independent from Toutle; Leslie French, a Republican from Vancouver; Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat from Washougal; and Davy Ray, a Democrat from Stevenson.

Average U.S. gasoline price drops 4 cents to $5.05 per gallon
Author: Associated Press

CAMARILLO, Calif. — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline fell by 4 cents per gallon in the past two weeks to $5.05 for regular grade, it was reported Sunday.

It was the first drop in nine weeks and came with a drop in oil prices amid deepening global inflation fears, industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said.

“As lower gasoline prices make their way through distribution to retail, consumers will likely see further declines in coming days,” Lundberg said.

The average price at the pump as of Friday was still $1.90 higher than it was one year ago.

Nationwide, the highest average price for regular-grade gas was in the San Francisco Bay Area, at $6.39 per gallon. The lowest average was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at $4.39 per gallon.

According to the survey, the average price of diesel rose 3 cents to $5.89 a gallon.

Why public power utilities are pouring cash into the campaign to support Lower Snake River dams
Author: Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Northwest power utilities have poured more than $2 million into a public-relations campaign to convince the region’s residents that breaching four hydropower dams on the Lower Snake River is a bad idea.

Dam proponents are concerned they have not done enough to counteract other campaigns by environmentalists, tribes and salmon advocates making the case for dam removal to recover Snake River salmon runs listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The Trend is Not Our Friend,” declared a March 10 fundraising presentation that cited polling results indicting a six-year surge — from 12% to 29% by 2021 — in public support for breaching the dams in southeastern Washington.

The campaign objectives include creating “mass mobilization” for grassroots activities, rallying opposition to any legislation that seeks to breach the Lower Snake dams and changing the narrative about the dams among “progressive constituencies,” according to the presentation developed by the Northwest RiverPartners, an association of public and cooperative electric utilities that has organized the campaign.

The public-relations blitz unfolds in a year of escalating debate — and political tensions — over the fate of the dams that in an average year generate about 10% of the power from the federal Columbia Basin hydropower system.

A June 9 draft report released by Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray found breaching offers the best chance to recover salmon in the Lower Snake, boost fishing opportunity and meet federal responsibilities to tribes. The study did not take a position on whether that should happen, and put the cost of replacing the dams at $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion.

The campaign’s backers fear a significant rise in power rates. They also fear an increasingly unreliable grid more prone to blackouts if solar, wind and battery storage replace the dams. Their campaign promotes retaining the dams to aid in the transition to a 21st century free of carbon emissions that drive climate change.

The Northwest RiverPartners’ presentation outlining the campaign listed contributions of nearly $2.16 million from 17 Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho nonprofit public and cooperative utilities. The Washington Grain Commission, whose members benefit from barge traffic made possible by the dams, contributed $25,000, and the Washington Potato Commission, some of whose members benefit from irrigation waters from Lower Snake dam pools, also contributed $25,000.

One slide in the presentation listed a fundraising goal of $4 to $6 million. Northwest RiverPartners did not respond to a request for an updated contribution tally.

“It should be no surprise that an advocacy group made up of community-owned utilities would be advocating for their ratepayers,” said Kurt Miller, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, in a written statement. “Our collective investment to inform the public of what is at stake with breaching the dams is less than pennies on the dollar compared to the cost to climate and ratepayers if we lose these dams.”

Utilities lead donations

As of March, south-central Washington’s Benton Public Utility District was the biggest campaign contributor, with a $600,000 donation.

Rick Dunn, general manger of the Benton PUD and Northwest RiverPartners boardmember, said the four Snake River dams supply about 10% of the utility’s annual energy consumption delivered to 56,289 metered connections.

The Benton County PUD has a 2022 operating revenue of $163.4 million, and Dunn said current threats to breaching the dams justified the donations, which were approved in a unanimous board vote in January. Benton County made an initial $300,000 donation, then matched other contributions for an additional $300,000.

“We don’t take it lightly to spend that kind of money, obviously, on something like this effort,” Dunn said. “It’s definitely something, historically, that we have never done … It was not a kind of slam-dunk, easy decision.”

As of March, Kalispell, Montana-based Flathead Electric Cooperative, along with Washington’s Franklin Public Utility District, were tied for the second largest contributions. Each kicked in $240,000.

In a statement, Mark Johnson, Flathead’s general manager, said protecting the dams was “absolutely essential to protecting the interests of our 56,000+ members in Northwest Montana.”

Later this summer, Murray and Inslee are expected to decide whether to support dam removal. One of the Northwest RiverPartners’ campaign goals is to “dissuade” them from taking that position.

Utility officials who contributed to the campaign are concerned an attempt to gain congressional authorization to remove the dams could come before the November elections, according to a memorandum prepared for Benton PUD before the vote authorizing its $600,000 in donations.

The success of such an effort would appear to be a long shot.

But, Dunn said, “We are really concerned that this is getting legs, and this [campaign] spending is with an eye to the long term. It may be something we have to do going forward.”

A long-running fight

The Northwest RiverPartners campaign has been pitched to utilities as an effort to counteract public relations in support of dam breaching by the Idaho Conservation League, Earthjustice and other environmental groups. The campaign “team” includes Rick Desimone, a former chief of staff for Murray, and Global Strategy Group, a public relations firm that has often consulted for Democratic candidates as well as Amazon and some tech companies.

The campaign kicked off in May and has included television spots, print advertisements and social media.

One television ad declares “Climate change is here,” and notes the Lower Snake dams’ role in keeping power on during the 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave. It then says, “The only way to replace dams would be by burning fossil fuels, making the impacts of climate change even worse.”

Yet there are proposals to phase out the four Lower Snake dams by adding more solar and wind and offer sources of power that don’t rely on the combustion of coal, natural gas or oil. The cost of such an effort, and how long that would take amid a broader transition away from fossil-fuel power generation, has been a topic of considerable study and has spurred debate.

The ads have drawn rebuttals from dam-removal advocates.

“They are defending a status quo that has failed the fish, tribes and many communities,” said Joseph Bogaard of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition that includes the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Idaho Conservation League and American Rivers. “The campaign is pushing fear, and we wish it would be different. We are interested in dialogue, but it has to be done in good faith.”

Billions have been spent on trying to restore threatened and endangered salmon runs in the Columbia Basin, and a massive effort made to supplement wild runs with hatchery fish.

Environmental groups, sport fishing industry representatives and tribes with treaty rights to salmon have been engaged in more than 20 years of federal court battles focused on the restoration effort and operations of the hydropower system. There is currently a pause in the litigation for out-of-court negotiations. And salmon advocates are hoping this increases the chance for congressional action this year, and have mustered their own public-relations campaigns.

A full-page ad published this month in The Seattle Times from the Salmon Orca Project, the Nez Perce tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Yakama Nation declared, “We can replace the services the dams provide and ensure no community gets left behind.”

On Saturday in Portland, a flotilla of kayaks, canoes, fishing boats and rafts participated in a “Rally for Salmon,” organized by conservationists, tribes and anglers, to demonstrate support for dam removal.

“If we do nothing while temperatures rise in our rivers, and the ocean becomes more hostile to our anadromous fish species, we will face extinctions for our fisheries, “said Jeremy Takala, Yakama Nation councilmember. He called this “cultural damage that we could never repair,” according to a statement from Columbia Riverkeeper, which helped organize the event.