The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in general is against breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

But while the organization won’t be backing removal of the dams, it will keep its view out of the spotlight, said Christopher Eyler, executive director of the Northwest Region for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He spoke Thursday at a Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting in Clarkston.

Asked to clarify his comments after the meeting, Eyler said, “The chamber’s position on this is that we would not be actively supportive of removal of the dams, but likely would not get involved directly in this debate.”

That stance goes along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s support of policies that give businesses cost-effective access to power.

The organization backs a variety of energy sources, such as hydro power, natural gas, wind, solar and coal-fired plants, as well as technologies that improve cleanliness and efficiency.

Eyler spoke about the dams in response to a question from Jerry Klemm, a Lewiston Port commissioner.

The possibility of breaching the dams has received more attention since late April, when Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, a Republican, acknowledged he had started asking questions about what would happen if the dams were removed.

He is making the inquires as he seeks a way to save endangered salmon and the financially strapped Bonneville Power Administration.

Dam breaching was just one of the issues that generated discussion during Eyler’s talk.

The challenges businesses are having finding qualified workers have prompted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to begin to examine higher education policies.

The organization hasn’t identified its position yet, but it is looking at student financial aid and work-study programs.

One possibility is that more student aid might be directed to certificates for students who have completed high school and are not seeking college degrees.

Another idea might be to direct additional dollars from work-study programs into off-campus positions so students could learn more about the field they want to enter. Right now, about 90 percent of the funds for work-study programs have to be spent on campus, Eyler said.

While supporting business is a priority, Lewis-Clark State College President Cynthia Pemberton said that it’s important for people to understand the value of higher education.

College graduates with four-year degrees earn $750,000 to $1 million more during their lives compared with those who have high school diplomas. Those with two-year degrees make an estimated $400,000 more during their careers, she said.

The workplace is changing so rapidly that a job or skill of today might be obsolete by the time students finish their programs.

“We need people that know how to learn, that care about learning, that can be good employees and good career people, constantly growing and evolving so they can change as the demands of industry continue to evolve,” Pemberton said during the meeting.

Plus, she noted that higher education is already incorporating on-the-job experience with academic classes. Most degrees at LCSC require an off-campus internship or a practicum experience.

“It does happen as a routine part of higher education,” she said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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