Pacific Northwest Senators, Members of Congress Prod State Department on Columbia River Treaty as Agency Drags Its Feet

Time running out for Obama administration to begin negotiations

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), five U.S. Senators and 17 U.S. House members from the Pacific Northwest sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry today, urging the U.S. Department of State to hasten its progress towards negotiations to modernize the Columbia River Treaty.

The State Department has stated that it intends to start negotiations in 2016. However, despite multiple letters from Congress urging it to move forward and receiving Regional Recommendations almost three years ago, the State Department has failed to take necessary steps to begin the long overdue process in the first seven months of the year.

“Treaty modernization and negotiations with Canada directly affect the economy, environment, and flood control needs of communities we represent,” the members wrote. “The U.S. Department of state [must] conclude the review process, approve the Circular 175 immediately, and press Canada to appoint a lead negotiator and engage in negotiations.”

The legislators have again called on the State Department to finalize its negotiating parameters and to press Canada to appoint a lead negotiator.  Both actions are required for talks to begin. The agency has insisted for months that its negotiating parameters document, known as Circular 175, was nearly complete. There have been no indications, however, that the State Department is close to approving the document. 

Updating the treaty, which has not been revised since it was ratified in 1964, will allow the U.S. and Canada to find new win-win solutions for management of the river that could provide new opportunities for cooperation on critical clean energy solutions such as smart grids with intermittent power, grid-scale storage, and clean infrastructure solutions. Such projects would drive new economic growth in both the U.S. and Canada. The members of Congress support the U.S. negotiating position based on regional recommendations to modernize the Treaty, balancing ecosystem function including salmon recovery, flood control, and hydropower generation.

Cantwell has been on the forefront in pressing for the modernization of the treaty. In March, she spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the need to move forward with negotiations to modernize the treaty. The Senator continued her push in June, meeting with Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton to discuss progress towards opening talks. Last year, Cantwell sent a letter to President Obama with 25 other members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation, urging the Administration to move forward with a strategy for addressing the treaty.

Members of Congress signing the letter included Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Jon Tester (D-MT), and Representatives Adam Smith (WA-09), Dennis Heck (WA-10), Jim McDermott (WA-07), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (WA-05), Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA-03), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Dave Reichert (WA-08), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Peter De Fazio (OR-04), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Walden (OR-02), Ryan Zinke (MT-At Large), and Mike Simpson (ID-02).

Full text of the letter can be found here.