Something Fishy about Eco-Extremists' Power Play

     If the Hoover Dam isn’t one of the wonders of the modern world, it’s not for lack of trying. Tens of thousands of people spent years building this amazing mountain of concrete.

     But some on the crazy eco-left want to tear it down – along with as many other dams as they can get their hands on. They clearly don’t care that those same dams provide power to a country reliant on it.

     I got a taste of this attitude several years ago at the conclusion of a Hoover Dam tour. After the guide detailed the dam’s wonders and how it provides power and water to several states, one of the dam crazies chimed in. He asked if there were any plans to remove the dam and restore the river back to nature.

     The guide took it in stride, laughed it off and said “no.” The rest of the tour was stunned. Today, we should expect that question. Since 1999, a loose coalition of some of the nation’s most extreme environmental groups has labored to remove the same dams that hardworking Americans spent years building.

     And if you get your news from the big three broadcast networks, you probably don’t know anything about this. According to a Business & Media Institute analysis of 13 months of network coverage of dams, ABC, CBS and NBC never touched on the topic of dam removal. Not once.

     The only way you’d know this is happening is reading a newspaper or maybe some blogs. While the networks were skipping a national controversy that included a major Supreme Court ruling, print media remained interested in the story. The top five newspapers wrote 65 articles about just one possible dam removal on the Klamath River during the same time period.

     But network news can choose to focus on or ignore a major national issue. And until they do focus, it isn’t a story.

     Sure, the networks report on dams. They’re on the scene when it looks like a dam might burst and send millions of gallons of water downriver. Network journalists cover the dangers of terrorism or poor maintenance. But where are they when an organized leftist effort threatens our dams and our power grid and could cost us billions of dollars? The media have the power to ignore the story and get away with it.

     It used to be the left supported the idea of “power to the people.” Since 1999, the opposite has been true. Beginning with the decommissioning of Edwards Dam in Maine that year, the extreme left has worked to remove dams around the country. By one count, they’ve gotten rid of more than 185 in that time, many of them hydroelectric. Our power grid has lost more than 220 megawatts.

     But they’ve only just begun.

     A recent Interior Department ruling will force PacifiCorp to install fish ladders (yes, ladders for fish to climb over the dams) on four dams it operates along the Klamath River. That would cost up to $470 million – which is up to $285 million more than tearing down the dams.

     The company has little choice but to tear down the dams, eliminating power for another 70,000 people. Elsewhere, eco-extremists are trying to remove the O'Shaughnessy Dam near San Francisco and dams along the lower Snake River.

     O'Shaughnessy looms above the Hetch Hetchy Valley, providing water and power to much of San Francisco. A recent California study says it could cost between $3 billion and $10 billion to take it down. Former San Francisco mayor and now-Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been one of the voices of sanity, calling the estimate for removal of the dam “indefensible” and warning it would leave the state vulnerable to “drought and blackout.”

     Feinstein is no liberal slouch herself – Americans for Democratic Action gave her a 90 out of 100 rating in 2006. So that shows how far the dam busters have turned from the conventional liberal ideals of people like Woody Guthrie or FDR. Both understood that dams really did mean power for the people. And power meant jobs, economic growth and a better life.

     That’s what all forms of power still mean to Americans. At a time when Congress and the White House debate “energy independence,” the eco-extremists busy themselves wrecking the power grid to save a few fish.

     The networks have the power to tell this story and make sure Americans understand the danger of chipping away at the 10 percent of our energy that comes from hydropower. We’re dammed if they do and, certainly, damned if they don’t.

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.