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Fellow Flyfishers,

Below is an editorial written by Senator Larry Craig, of Idaho that appeared in todays (5/18/03) Idaho Statesman.

He is defending his rider on a pending Senate energy bill that will virtually eliminate any opportunity for the public, state or federal agencies from being able to force dam operators, many of which are up for re-licensing, in as many as 39 states (think western for our purposes) to help protect and restore salmonid populations. If the bill passes, dam operators will have five years to form a counter-proposal (while still continuing to kill salmonids) and if turned down, appeal to the Secretary of Interior, Commerce or Agriculture (think Bush appointees) WITHOUT APPEAL FROM ANYONE.

I have also enclosed an editorial from the editors of The Statesman calling for rejection of the senator's bill.

After reading these, you may want to contact your own US Senators and let them know how you feel. Make up your own minds but, make no mistake, this is an insidious attack on our precious salmon and steelhead populations.

Larry Craig: Hydro amendment would preserve key energy source

Currently under consideration before the U.S. Senate is a comprehensive national energy bill. Included in the package is a hydro licensing title I developed with the help of Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. The title contains moderate language designed to restore balance, certainty, flexibility and accountability to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hydro licensing process - a process that all involved parties agree needs to be fixed.

As residents of the Pacific Northwest know, renewable hydropower is a vital source of energy to the region. Idahoans are very familiar with the role dams play in harnessing this energy source, yet over the last decade it has become nearly impossible to relicense a hydro facility on a river.

It can take as much as a decade or more of bureaucratic red tape and tens of millions of dollars just to relicense, let alone retrofit and change the character of the generating facility for the purpose of making it more environmentally benign.

I recognize there are very real environmental needs to be met and the legislation does nothing to impair those efforts. At the same time, we can´t just walk away from an abundant and clean form of renewable energy. During the next 15 years, over half of all the non-federal hydro capacity in this country - about 296 dams in more than 39 states providing 30,000 megawatts of power to 15 million homes - must undergo the relicensing process.

My legislation is in response to FERC and federal court opinions that expressed concern about the practical application of the Supreme Court´s 1984 ruling that federal agencies, such as the Forest Service, had the authority to impose mandatory conditions on a licensee pursuant to the Federal Power Act (FPA) when a project affects a federal reservation or requires fishways.

The current application of that decision skews the entire licensing process because there is no clear legal requirement forcing federal resource agencies to balance - a bedrock requirement of Part I of the FPA - or even consider the impact of their conditions on other important interests, including the need for power, irrigation, flood control and recreational uses.

Even further complicating the process, under current law, environmental advocacy groups and tribes can go to FERC and seek stricter, more expensive conditions if they believe that the federal resource agencies´ mandatory conditions are weak.

License applicants, ironically enough, have no such recourse if they believe more cost-effective conditions could achieve the environmental goals contained in the federal agencies´ conditions.

My legislation gives license applicants an opportunity to seek such action from the resource agency, while leaving the conditioning authority fully intact.

The resource agency can still reject any alternative condition or fishway prescription that does not satisfy the agency´s existing statutory requirement to protect the environment, or is less protective of fish than the original prescription, but license applicants will at least be given a chance to argue an alternative.

Last, my legislation does not grant any special right to appeal to any party.

What it does do is give federal resource agencies the opportunity to accept a "least-cost" or "energy-saving" alternative condition proposed by an applicant. Furthermore, nothing in the language affects the ability of any party to appeal the terms of a final license once it is issued by FERC.

The bipartisan hydropower legislation contained in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Energy Bill would make important, environmentally responsible changes to the FERC hydropower licensing process - changes that will help make the process work better for all electricity consumers and preserve our nation´s leading renewable resource.

Our View: Flawed hydro 'reform' by The Idaho Statesman

Dams - and the cheap power they provide - are at a critical point, says Sen. Larry Craig.

Almost 300 dams in 39 states are up for relicensing in the next 15 years; their 30,000 megawatts can light 15 million homes, Craig says. Included on the list is Idaho Power´s Hells Canyon dam complex, which produces 1,398 megawatts.

But in trying to preserve hydro, Craig goes too far. He wants to allow utilities to protest rules designed to protect rivers, and the public lands dependent on them. Craig wants to hand too much power to the utilities, taking it away from the people who count on federal agencies to protect their fish and their rivers.

That´s not right. Because, while this is a critical point for hydro, it´s also critical for the nation´s rivers. Dam relicensing is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring these dams up to modern environmental standards," says the Hydropower Reform Coalition, a consortium of conservation groups.

Right now, federal agencies can impose operating conditions on a dam - rules designed, for example, to help fish survive near dams. A Craig amendment in a far-reaching Senate energy bill would allow the utilities the chance to appeal the rules, to push alternatives - and to take the issue to the Cabinet, if necessary. For all the "turned-up hysteria" coming from the amendment´s critics, Craig said, it´s really just an attempt to restore balance.

We´re not convinced.

• It injects a new round of politics in licensing.

One of Craig´s watchwords is accountability - federal agencies should be accountable for the rules they want to pass on to the utilities. But what it really creates is a politicized process - one where utilities can take their case to a Cabinet secretary, a presidential appointee.

• This will bog down relicensing - which all sides agree is costly and time-consuming.

It´s ironic, because one of Craig´s key Democratic allies on the issue, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, signed on because, as governor, he grew frustrated at the slow process of licensing plants in his state.

And here´s some more irony. Craig - a tireless critic of the Clinton administration - admits the administration did a pretty good job of speeding up relicensing.

• By giving the utilities appeal power, they get to protest decisions designed to protect the people´s rivers and ecosystems. And that power of appeal would hurt the prospects of negotiating "win-win" relicensing agreements that work for utilities and the rivers. "This bill would lead to greater litigation at a time when collaboration and settlement are flourishing," says the Hydropower Reform Coalition.

• The amendment only does so much for the utilities.

It´s a "minimal gain," said Greg Panter, vice president of public affairs for Idaho Power. Moments later, he backtracked, but not much. "It´s a modest gain."

Either way, Panter said, Idaho Power discouraged Craig from introducing the amendment this year. The company is worried this would open the door to other amendments that would do more harm to the industry.

Don´t read too much into Idaho Power´s stance. The company has supported this kind of language before, and, Panter said, most utilities still back it. But the company is prepared to continue relicensing its Hells Canyon dam complex without new legislation.

The utilities´ experience is mixed. Some have had big problems with agency demands, Panter said.

On Idaho Power´s Middle Snake dams - which stretch from Swan Falls upriver to Shoshone Falls, and are in various stages of relicensing - this hasn´t been a problem, company spokesman Jeff Beaman said.

Either way, Craig´s amendment sends the wrong message and undermines the process, because it would allow utilities to second-guess the agencies who are supposed to protect the public´s resources.

That isn´t reform, or balance. As the energy bill gets a long hearing in Congress, this part of the package deserves to be scrapped.

Edition Date: 05-18-2003

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Leland, thanks for posting this. This is a big issue, and it is one that is likely to get overlooked in the debate on the pending Senate energy bill. It does not appear to be where Washington state's senators are focused. (They are focused on other bad or missing aspects of the bill, which is fine, but I'm not convinced this issue is anywhere on their radar screens.) Let Murray and Cantwell know your views on this Craig amendment. If enough of us do, they will pay attention. It's so easy to get in touch with them by e-mail:

[email protected]

[email protected]

(If you're in another state, google your senator's name and you can easily find his/her website and e-mail address.)

Keep in mind that we're in a Republican-dominated Congress right now. Consequently, do not expect your representatives and senators to be protecting and supporting progressive environmental legislation and policies without some noise from their consituents.
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