It is time to secure an updated Columbia River Treaty
By Congressman Dan Newhouse
Without the systems and infrastructure we have built to harness the power of the mighty Columbia River, the Pacific Northwest as we know it would cease to exist. Dams along the Columbia provide countless benefits to our communities – from reliable, affordable electricity and flood control to irrigation, navigable waterways, and a clean energy grid second to none in the country. We must continue to work collaboratively with our neighboring states and Canada to ensure we can responsibly reap these benefits while caring for our environment and natural ecosystems.
That is why the United States and Canada entered into the Columbia River Treaty in 1961. Millions of people on both sides of the border have an interest in maintaining a strong agreement, but outdated provisions – particularly those relating to commercial and power coordination – have caused great concern for homeowners, businesses and ratepayers in our district and the surrounding region who are being treated unfairly.
The treaty in its current form is punishing ratepayers in the Northwest. Current market rates are forcing us to pay Canada for benefits far in excess of the value provided to the United States. Ratepayers on our side of the border are currently required to overpay Canada by approximately $200 million per year according to the treaty’s provisions, costing some households in Central Washington as much as $500 per year.
When the treaty was first signed, we didn’t have nearly the same technological capabilities we do today. Scientific innovation aimed at improving power generation and increasing fish passage through our dams – much of which is happening right here in Central Washington – has advanced our ability to make our region a literal powerhouse for clean and affordable energy. Continuing to operate under this decades-old agreement while ignoring these advancements is doing all entities a disservice, but it is particularly harmful to those of us in the United States who are sending millions of dollars to Canada annually while receiving little to no benefit in return.
Since coming to Congress, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to urge the administration to modernize the Columbia River Treaty and provide more equitable benefits to Americans.
In 2018, the United States and Canada began these negotiations, but good faith efforts by the State Department and U.S. negotiators have been rejected by Canada. No treaty negotiations have taken place since June, nor are they likely to resume for months to come. With the U.S. sending $1 million to Canada every two to three days, this situation is no longer tolerable and demands a strong response from the United States.
That is why I introduced a bipartisan resolution alongside my Pacific Northwest colleagues, Representatives Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., urging President Donald Trump to direct Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to immediately issue a notice of intent to terminate the power provisions of the Columbia River Treaty.
The United States is stuck in a bad deal, and it is time to stop the wealth transfer to Canada. Issuing the intent to terminate signals to Canada that we are serious about a timely negotiated outcome and simply initiates a 10-year period for the United States and Canada to negotiate a modernized Treaty equitable to both countries. We must prioritize making a fair deal that no longer disproportionately impacts U.S. ratepayers.
It is time to secure an updated Columbia River Treaty, and I am hopeful the Trump administration will take this necessary action to do so.
Rep. Dan Newhouse represents Washington’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.