Provision in House Energy Bill Would Destroy Nation's Premier Trout Fisheries
Organization mobilizes membership to fight measure becoming law
Steve Malloch , Counsel , Trout Unlimited (703) 284-9415
10/1/2001 -- Arlington, VA -- America’s largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization says that an obscure provision in the energy bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, and under consideration in the Senate would destroy many of the nation’s best trout fisheries.
The measure, buried deep within the huge energy bill that was approved by the House of Representatives (H.R. 4), would require the Department of the Interior to maximize energy production at federal hydropower plants, regardless of resulting impacts – including impacts on fish, fishing, boating, water quality, river health, or any other resource impacts. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), aided by Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), have stalled authorization of next year’s Defense spending with amendments that would attach the entire 510-page House-passed bill to the Defense bill. Also included in HR 4 is drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge, opening other public lands to energy development, and $33.5 billion in subsidies to the energy industries.
“The hydropower measure is about maximizing power production no matter the cost to the nation’s natural resources,” said Charles Gauvin, Trout Unlimited’s President. “It doesn’t even give lip service toward balancing our energy needs with the national interests in natural resource and environmental preservation.”
Gauvin said famous trout fisheries like the Bighorn River below Yellowtail Dam, the Missouri River below Canyon Ferry Dam; Lower Sacramento River below Shasta/Keswick Dams; the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam and North Platte River’s Miracle Mile below Seminoe Dam, as well as others, would be devastated if the measure becomes law.
Representative James Hanson, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Resources Committee, sponsored the provision in the energy bill. It would require maximizing peak energy production at the nation’s existing hydropower resources operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (BOR).
The legislation directs the BOR to study and then carry out provisions to make hydropower considerations come before fish and wildlife, recreation and other natural resources considerations, despite project authorizations that included these natural resource issues.
Trout Unlimited said that the effect of the legislation, if it becomes law, would be to push as much water as possible through hydropower generators during hours of peak electrical demand, flooding rivers when demand for power is high and then turning them into trickles hours later when the demand falls. While fish and aquatic life are adapted to changing water flows in rivers, they cannot thrive in rivers that go from trickle to torrent every day. In addition, rapidly changing flows are often unsafe for angling and other types of recreation.
Gauvin said that this legislation would produce no new power; rather it will simply shift the time of day that the power is generated. With the rapid growth in new natural gas fired turbines being built by the private sector, this provision puts the federal government in direct competition with utilities for the most lucrative part of the power market – peak power. On the other hand, it will not only have huge environmental consequences on these rivers, it will be devastating to the thriving fisheries – worth millions every year to rural economies – that have sprung up around the rivers. “The irony of this hydropower provision is that it is not at all about power generation; it is about money,” Gauvin stated.
In total, sport fishing is a big business in the United States. In 1996, 35 million anglers in the United States created 1.2 million jobs by spending $37 billion on recreational fishing. “This is one of the most poorly thought out pieces of legislation to come out of Washington in years. For a few more cents more per kilowatt in profit, the utilities behind this legislation are going to destroy pristine fisheries that infuse millions into rural economies. Someone obviously didn’t do a careful cost-benefit analysis of this approach,” Gauvin said.
Gauvin said that his organization is mobilizing its 130,000 members to actively oppose the House of Representatives hydro provisions from becoming part of the Senate’s energy bill. The organization’s membership in nine states have been asked to petition their Senators asking them to follow a balanced energy approach for hydropower, not an approach of maximizing hydropower at the expense of fish, wildlife and local economies. The states Trout Unlimited is targeting include Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.
In addition, the organization has also placed an action alert on their Web site, encouraging its 35,000 monthly visitors to contact their Senators and ask them to develop a reasonable approach to power production from the nation’s hydro facilities, an approach that releases reasonable and consistent amounts of water to keep the rivers below them healthy.
Mission: Trout Unlimited is the nation's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization with over 130,000 members in the United States and Canada. It is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the nation's trout and salmon streams and their watersheds.