Senate Committee Clears Merkley Columbia River Restoration Act

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill authored by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Montana Senator Max Baucus, to support the clean-up and restoration of the Columbia River Basin.  The bill will authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to provide technical assistance and help local stakeholders, including state and local agencies, tribal governments, industry, landowners, and environmental groups, in an effort to reduce toxic contamination in the river. 

“The Columbia River has been a lifeline for Oregon’s fishing industry and powers much of the Northwest,” said Merkley.  “Unfortunately, the Columbia River Basin has long been contaminated with harmful toxic chemicals that pose a serious threat to human health, to fish and wildlife populations, and to the livelihoods of many Oregonians.  This bill will finally give local organizations and tribes the resources they need to put people to work cleaning up the river so it can continue to be the backbone of our economy in the Pacific Northwest.”

The Columbia River Basin encompasses the largest river in the Pacific Northwest and is inhabited by 8 million people.  The river has been plagued by dangerous pollutants, such as PCBs and other chemicals.  The bill will provide grants for projects prioritized by local stakeholders to implement a basin-wide Toxics Reduction Action Plan and, in the lower Columbia River Estuary below Bonneville Dam, a Comprehensive Management Plan developed for that area.  The Columbia River Basin is one of the largest river systems in the United States without a dedicated restoration program and funding.  

The bill was reintroduced yesterday with Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) as co-sponsors.   The bill is supported by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, and the Oregon Farm Bureau.  The committee action today sends the bill to the Senate floor for consideration, pending scheduling by the Majority Leader.