Army Corps of Engineers:

An Assessment of the Lower Snake River Dams' Draft Environmental Impact Statement

T-RCED-00-294: Published: Sep 12, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its assessment of the Army Corps of Engineers' draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Lower Snake River dams, focusing on whether the Corps: (1) followed applicable procedures and guidelines in preparing the draft EIS; and (2) used a reasonable methodology to analyze and present the effects of breaching, specifically with respect to electricity costs, transportation costs, and air quality.

GAO noted that: (1) the Corps conducted a comprehensive EIS process that generally adhered to the procedural requirements of the relevant federal laws and other guidelines for conducting an EIS; (2) however, doing so did not eliminate controversy about the EIS' analysis or conclusions, even though the draft EIS made no recommendations about whether the dams should be breached; (3) in GAO's judgment, the Corps' analysis and presentation of the effects of breaching on electricity costs is reasonable--however, GAO could not determine the reasonableness of the Corps' estimated effects on transportation costs and air quality; (4) for example, because breaching the dams would make the river too shallow for barge shipments, the Corps estimated that as much as $532 million in infrastructure improvements would be needed for road, rail, and storage facilities if barge shipments ceased on the Snake River; (5) however, the Corps assumed that these new investments would not affect the transportation cost estimate without testing the validity of this assumption or measuring the sensitivity of the transportation cost estimate to this assumption; and (6) likewise, the Corps did not consider air quality effects from breaching on certain local populations or the effect of exposing potentially contaminated river sediments.

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