FERC Flounders in Responding to California Energy Crisis
3/14/2001 — — Urges Trading Fish and Wildlife Protection for Power
Washington, DC After blaming California deregulation and California Governor Gray Davis for not keeping the lights on, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) took aim at another target – fish and wildlife that depend on western rivers. Today, FERC urged western hydropower generators to disregard operations limits designed to protect and enhance fish, wildlife and other organisms that depend on already stressed western rivers. FERC’s answer to the California energy woes is sacrificing fish and wildlife across the west for a tiny amount of power.
“FERC seems to think that healthy fish and wildlife in the nation’s rivers are merely an obstacle to generating power,” stated Steven Malloch, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “Despite being legally required to give healthy fish and wildlife equal consideration, FERC urges hydropower generators to cash in by trading fish and wildlife for more power.”
Today FERC issued Order EL01-47, an “Order Removing Obstacles to Increased Electric Generation and Natural Gas Supply in the Western United States and Requesting Comment on Further Actions to Increase Energy Supply and Decrease Energy Consumption.” In the Order, FERC made clear that it considered fish and wildlife protection an “obstacle” to increased energy production, despite the legal requirement that FERC give equal consideration to resources affected by hydropower generation.
Non-federal hydropower dams on public rivers are required to have a license, good for 30 to 50 years, issued by FERC. When those licenses are renewed, it is common for FERC to require water flows better for fish and wildlife, new fish passage facilities, and other environmental controls in order to protect the public river resource used by the project. However, most western hydro projects were issued licenses years ago, before the rise of concern for the environment, and few environmental constraints are in the licenses. Responsible hydropower owners frequently enhance fish and wildlife by shaping the river flows, causing minor reductions in power generation. Most western hydropower owners are already pushing their power generation to the maximum, consistent with their license and sense of responsibility to fish and wildlife. Despite this, FERC’s Order urges still more power production.
“In a recent poll, almost two-thirds of Californians adamantly opposed relaxing environmental protection to increase power production,” stated Charlton Bonham, California Hydropower Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “FERC urges hydropower owners who are responsibly helping fish and wildlife to frustrate the strongly held desire of their customers.”
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 125,000 members in 500 chapters in North America.