Eleventh Hour Discussions Hold Promise For Improvements in Conference Committee
Vice President Government Affairs
8/1/2003 -- Washington, D.C. -- Last night, in an odd turn of events, weeks of deliberations on the Senate energy bill were cut short by a vote of 84-14 to approve last year's omnibus energy bill (S. 517 in the 107th Congress). This stunning action sets up a critical House-Senate conference committee on energy this fall. Although the bill is improved, S. 517 contains hydropower provisions opposed by Trout Unlimited and other conservationists because they could weaken key fish conservation standards and public participation procedures in current law.
However, discussions on the hydropower section of the bill held just prior to its passage may foreshadow promise for a more fish-friendly outcome in the upcoming Conference committee deliberations. These discussions, led by the bill’s sponsor, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), and other senators, sought improvements for fish and public participation.
“The Senate-passed bill was tough on trout and salmon,” said Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs and Volunteer Programs. “But we are pleased by what we saw as a new willingness to improve the hydro section of the bill by key senators in the recent days. It is our hope that these discussions will bear fruit and enhance the otherwise bleak outlook for fisheries resources in the energy bill conference,” said Moyer.
If they are not changed, the hydropower provisions contained in both the Senate and House energy bills could directly undercut the work that TU volunteers and staff are undertaking to restore rivers via the hydropower dam relicensing process right now. From Maine, to North Carolina, to California, these bills would make hydropower licensing slower and more complex, cut the public out of the process, and undermine the most valuable fish-restoring parts of current law. In sum, the House bill, and to a lesser extent the new Senate bill, shift the balance of power in hydropower relicensings heavily in favor of dam owners and against the health of our rivers.
Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) led efforts to improve the hydro language to establish a fair, balanced alternative process for determining fish and wildlife conservation provisions at hydro dams. Unfortunately, these efforts were cut short by the Senate’s bill-switching maneuver.
TU would like to commend the strong efforts of support for fisheries conservation demonstrated by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), and John McCain (R-AZ). All three worked hard in recent weeks to seek amendments to help fish and stakeholders seeking to retain adequate standing in the hydro relicensing process. TU also appreciates Senator Domenici’s willingness to consider amending the hydro provisions.
TU looks forward to working with a bipartisan group of senators and representatives to ensure that fish and resource stakeholders are not left behind in the House-Senate Conference committee debate on hydro.
Mission: 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 127,000 members in 450 chapters in North America.