This bill is a devastating assault on our nation’s rivers and the people and wildlife that depend upon them. Its passage would end 95 years of balance in hydropower licensing, tipping the scales against taxpayers and in favor of huge utilities.
Hydropower licenses are issued for up to 50 years. Many hydropower facilities that are coming up for relicensing now were first constructed before virtually all modern environmental laws were in place. It is during relicensing proceedings that the public gets the opportunity to ensure that dam owners make the necessary changes to comply with modern laws. The opportunity to mitigate for the damage to the environment, while still providing reliable electricity, only arises once in a generation or two.
H.R. 3043 attempts to streamline the hydropower licensing process by centralizing power and allowing FERC to set an aggressive licensing schedule that all federal and state agencies must adhere to throughout the licensing process. There are no requirements that FERC or the licensee provide the agencies with the information they deem necessary to quickly and competently exercise their Clean Water Act or Endangered Species Act authority. This creates a dynamic where, unless every step of the process proceeds seamlessly, agencies are faced with the impossible decision to either exercise their authority without necessary information (which exposes them to legal liability) or to fail to meet the schedule. This change will constrain federal, state, and tribal agencies use of their independent authorities and rush decision making, potentially making it more difficult to protect water quality, recover threatened and endangered species, and manage tribal-trust resources and public lands.
Other provisions of H.R. 3043, such as the changes to the Trial Type Hearing process for alternative conditions, the requirement that federal natural resource agencies conduct costly, wasteful and time consuming review of matters outside of their scope of expertise and jurisdiction, and the requirement that scientific decisions be made only by political appointees in Washington, DC are all examples of how H.R. 3043 tilts the balance toward the interests of power companies.
The balance the Federal Power Act currently strikes between power and non-power values has existed for almost a century. Current law protects the public’s right to enjoy its rivers, a right which can and should be compatible with responsible electricity production. However, H.R. 3043 upends that balance. Simply put, the bill is a massive giveaway to special interests at the expense of healthy rivers and the fish, wildlife, and people that depend upon them. If H.R. 3043 passes, power company profits will go to the head of the line, ahead of every other user.