Columbia Riverkeeper and other conservation groups today filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and its controversial new administrator Scott Pruitt.
Riverkeeper—along with Snake River Waterkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources—filed the suit in an effort to get the EPA to work to cool the waters in the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Doing so would improve the survival chances of salmon and steelhead in both rivers.
Dams in the both rivers slow the flow of water downstream, leading to higher temperatures. Columbia Riverkeeper says that warm water temperatures in 2015 killed 250,000 sockeye salmon in the Columbia.
A previous EPA review of the Columbia Snake system in 2003 found that dams on both rivers were the primary cause of elevated temperatures because the water warms as it stagnates. Spilling more water over the dams or otherwise increasing the flow of the rivers is the logical solution to cooling the rivers but how the agency responds to the lawsuit remains to be seen.
Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, was confirmed last week by the U.S. Senate despite Democrats' concerns that he is a climate-change denier who has worked closely with the oil and gas industry to fight the regulation of carbon emissions. This week, a court in Oklahoma forced the release of thousands of emails showing Pruitt's relationship with oil and gas industry figures.
The new lawsuit, which Columbia Riverkeeper says it believes is the first filed against Pruitt, will be a test of the EPA's approach under President Donald J. Trump.
"We need a plan to deal with climate change and rising water temperatures in the Columbia, or we may be telling our kids stories about salmon instead of teaching them to fish," said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.