Conference Committee Should Reject Energy Bill Provisions that are Harmful to Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Local Economies
Conference committee members will begin meeting this week
Vice President for Conservation Programs
6/27/2002 -- Washington, D.C -- Provisions related to the operation of some of the nation’s hydroelectric dams could have a devastating effect on fish, wildlife and recreation if members of a U.S. House and Senate Conference Committee don’t remove them from the energy bill they will begin to act on this week, according to Trout Unlimited.
The provisions, one in the House of Representatives’ version of the energy bill and the other in the Senate’s version, would, if fully implemented, cause wild fluctuations in water levels below dams and create roadblocks to the current requirement that when dams are relicensed, they modernize their facilities to consider a river’s fish, wildlife and recreational needs.
“TU has worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and private hydropower utilities for 30 years to restore the health of rivers and minimize hydropower impacts on fish. While we support the production of hydroelectricity in the United States, there is clearly a right way and a wrong way to go about doing that, and we know the difference,” said Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “The right way is to do it in a manner that is sensitive to fish, wildlife and local economies. The wrong way is to produce power and operate dams ignoring the importance of these valuable natural and economic assets. The provisions in the House and Senate energy bills are clearly the wrong way to produce hydropower.”
Under the provision in the House of Representatives energy bill, major federal dams would be operated at times of peak electrical demand to maximize the hydropower they produce. Maximizing peak power requires flooding rivers at certain times of the day and drying rivers to a trickle when electricity demand is low. Doing that would produce no new power, only more profitable power, and because fish and aquatic life need water all the time, this provision could devastate fisheries below Bureau of Reclamation dams.
The House provision could also harm the largely rural communities that now depend on the economic benefit of those fisheries. Further, it may create safety problems for recreational users of the rivers, as river levels unexpectedly and suddenly rise or fall in response to power needs. Most large Reclamation hydropower plants are currently operated to balance water supply, flood control, power generation, recreation, and fish and wildlife.
Some of the West’s premier trout fisheries could be devastated by the House hydro provision including: Utah’s Green River; Montana’s Bighorn River, South Fork of the Flathead and the Missouri Rivers; California’s Lower Sacramento River; Colorado’s Gunnison River; Idaho’s South Fork of the Snake River; and Wyoming’s North Platte River.
The Senate’s version of the energy bill would make improving fisheries, wildlife habitat and recreation more difficult, and may delay bringing non-federal hydropower facilities up to modern environmental standards, when they go through the relicensing process every 30 to 50 years.
The Senate provision allows alternatives to the current requirements and shuts the public and other parties to the license proceeding out of the process by stating that only the hydropower operator may offer those alternatives, which the licensing agency is required to consider. The alternatives proposed need not meet the current standard of environmental protection set by the agencies, and furthermore, the Senate version changes the time schedule for relicensing in a way that squeezes the time available for natural resources and environmental studies, upon which the final decisions rest.
“The House and Senate hydro provisions are being touted as energy production measures. Ironically, in the long run, their costs to the environment, the nation’s rivers and local economies will dwarf any additional energy produced under these measures,” said Moyer.
Moyer said Trout Unlimited is organizing efforts to convince the members of the conference committee, which will begin meeting this week to iron out the differences between the House and Senate energy bills, to drop the harmful provisions. He said recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, the fishing tackle industry, and conservationists will join in the effort that will include letters to committee members and meetings with members and their staffs.
Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 130,000 members in 500 chapters in North America.
For more information: Steve Malloch, Counsel, TU (703) 284-9415