Tribes fished at Celilo Falls along the Columbia River for thousands of years until it was was destroyed by the construction of The Dalles Dam in the 1950s. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Trump administration seeks to privatize power system tied to treaty tribes

The Trump administration is seeking to privatize the Columbia River power system but treaty tribes and key members of Congress are pushing back.

President Donald Trump proposed selling the Bonneville Power Administration transmission system in his fiscal year 2018 budget. The idea drew questions from an official with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents four tribes with treaty rights on the river.

“Obligations are tied to the federal relationship,” Jaime A. Pinkham, the commission's executive director, told The New York Times. “When you privatize, what happens to the voice of the Indian people?”

Lawmakers from both parties who represent Oregon, Washington and other Western states that rely on the BPA transmission system expressed concerns too. They convinced the House Budget Committee to reject privatization in the federal government's 2018 budget resolution.

"“Bonneville Power Administration provides affordable electricity service that is essential for our rural communities, and divesting would needlessly jeopardize regional energy markets," Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) said in a press release on Wednesday.

The 250 hydropower dams along the Columbia River and its tributaries generate power for millions of Americans in the West, The Times reported. But building them disrupted the economies and daily lives of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Yakama Nation, whose ancestors were promised fishing, water and hunting rights in treaties they signed in the 1800s.

Salmon runs dwindled and the tribes lost valuable fishing, gathering and housing sites along the river. Congress is still trying to correct decades of neglect caused by construction of the dams.

Read More on the Story:
Down the Mighty Columbia River, Where a Power Struggle Looms (The New York Times 7/28)

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