Congressional Conferees Drop Controversial Federal Hydropower Provision from Energy Bill
Measure would have severely damaged the Wests fish and wildlife resources
7/25/2002 — Arlington, VA — A controversial measure that would have caused enormous harm to fish and wildlife resources in the West has been dropped from the federal energy bill currently being considered by a Congressional conference committee. In a meeting of House and Senate members on the conference committee today, dropping the provision, Section 6403 of the House version of H.R. 4, was among the agreements announced.
The measure would have required that major western federal dams be operated to maximize the hydropower they produce at times of peak demand. Maximizing peak electric power requires flooding rivers at certain times of the day and drying rivers to a trickle at night when electricity demand is low. Doing so would produce no new power, but would shift power production to the times of day when power is most expensive. However, because fish and aquatic life need water all day long, the provision would have devastated fisheries below Bureau of Reclamation dams.
This measure would have caused irreparable damage to some of the most beautiful and productive trout fisheries in the West including such legendary rivers as Utahs Green River; Montanas Missouri River, and Idahos South Fork of the Snake River. Its removal is a huge victory for the Wests fish and wildlife resources, said Steve Malloch of Trout Unlimited, which led the fight to remove the provision from the energy bill.
Some of the rivers that would have been affected draw trout anglers from around the country. Six of the rivers are in Trout Unlimiteds Guide to Americas 100 Best Trout Streams, published in 1999. Malloch said that had the hydro provision become law it would have harmed the largely rural communities that now depend on the economic benefit of those fisheries. Also, it would have created safety problems for recreational users, as river levels unexpectedly and suddenly rose or fell in response to power needs.
Still pending before the conference committee is a measure in the Senates version of the energy bill that would weaken current environmental requirements for non-federal hydropower facilities. Non-federal facilities go through a comprehensive review and obtain new licenses every 30 to 50 years. When they are relicensed, the facilities are required to meet modern environmental standards, including improving fisheries, wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation.
Malloch said that Trout Unlimited, as well as other organizations, will work actively over the next few weeks to get conferees to remove or improve the Senate provision.
Hydropower projects produce needed electricity, but like all forms of energy generation appropriate environmental protection is required. Many hydro projects can achieve a reasonable balance between energy production and fish and wildlife protection. We think that Congress should not use the electricity crises of last year to upset that balance, and favor power at the expense of fish and wildlife and the local, rural economies that have come to rely on those resources, said Malloch.
For more information: Steve Moyer (703) 284-9406