Hydropower Dam Fight Delayed: Sparks Expected in Full Committee
Subcommittee Hydro Amendments Reveal Flaws in Dam Licensing Legislation
5/16/2000 -- -- Contact: Steve Malloch, Trout Unlimited Counsel: (703) 284-9415
Washington, DC...Members of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power received more than they had bargained for today as they attempted to pass hydropower industry supported legislation out of committee that would dramatically reduce fisheries resource protection at thousands of privately owned dams on America's rivers. The Hydropower Licensing Process Improvement Act of 1999, H.R. 2335, would entangle resource agencies with unnecessary process reviews and limitations as they formulate fish passage and land use prescriptions protecting trout, salmon, and other river resources.
Hydropower dams have a variety of negative effects on rivers including: blocked or slowed flows; reduced river levels; blocked or inhibited fish passage; obstructed movement of gravel, woody debris, and nutrients; altered water temperature; decreased dissolved oxygen levels; limited public river access; and harm to the aesthetics and natural character of a river setting. Trout Unlimited, a leader in fish-friendly hydropower relicensing negotiations across the nation, opposes the legislation because it makes the relicensing process less efficient and fails to protect America's natural resources.
"Hydropower licenses give dam owners a right to use a river for thirty to fifty years," said Trout Unlimited Counsel Steve Malloch. "If you have only one chance to do a job every two generations, you should do it right and use the best information. H.R. 2335 prevents fish and wildlife agencies from correcting environmental flaws that accompanied the dams' construction.
"Based on the dramatic declines in Northwest and Atlantic salmon, it's clear the agencies did not get it right fifty years ago when dams were built. This legislation makes sure that the agencies can't protect fish and wildlife during relicensing. By setting up impossible procedures, like requiring the agency to submit its conditions before the dam owner files its application, the agencies' hands are tied. In most cases that means the industries win while the fish continue to lose."
Today, House Commerce Committee Democrats led by ranking member Rep. Dingell proposed fish-friendly amendments that attempted to remedy the legislation's fish-failings. A scheduling conflict prevented Democrats from offering the amendments. Instead, it is expected that the full committee will consider them. The amendments included:
- The establishment of a decommissioning fund as part of the licensing/relicensing agreement
- The assessment of royalties on hydroelectric power generated using navigable waters of the U.S. Fifty percent of the royalties would be directed to affected states for fish and wildlife enhancement and 50 percent would be directed the treasury.
- The requirement that the Federal Energy Relicensing Commission (FERC) assess the multiple project impacts of the hydropower facility on the river and establish license conditions on each project designed to protect and enhance fish and wildlife and mitigate damages resulting from the cumulative impact of all projects.
"Even if these amendments passed, they could not have redeemed the legislation's hostile attitude towards protection of fish and rivers," said Malloch. "However, Trout Unlimited believes that the favorable amendments revealed exactly how biased the authors of the Hydropower Licensing Process Improvement Act of 1999 are against real improvements to the relicensing process."
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is America's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. Trout Unlimited's 125, 000 members and 500 chapters nationwide are dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of Colorado's trout fisheries and their watersheds.