Congress Asked to Set New License Conditions on Dams

The Hydropower Reform Coalition commends the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for highlighting 39 rivers across the United States that are burdened by “antiquated” dam licenses that allow environmental damage to continue.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-12-27 [] FERC “Chairman Wood’s attention to these antiquated hydropower dam licenses is a positive sign for the future of our rivers,” says HRC coordinator Matt Sicchio. “We hope this attention is followed by action that brings these dams up to modern environmental standards as soon as possible. After all, these dams have been using public rivers with little or no environmental protections for decades.” Congress must step in to force updated license conditions on many dams which get their licenses renewed annually under conditions written 50 years ago, he explains. HRC called on Congress to include language in its energy bill to ensure that modern licenses for the more than 450 dams due for re-licensing in the next decade are issued in a timely manner with appropriate conditions to protect the health of public rivers. FERC held a public workshop to look at the 51 oldest pending applications for hydropower dams. The workshop followed a report from HRC which highlighted the harm done to 39 rivers by these hydro facilities. “FERC’s workshop illustrates the need for Congress to step in and eliminate the incentives that lead utilities to drag their feet in licensing,” says Andrew Fahlund of American Rivers. When their licenses expire, utilities are granted ‘annual licenses’ which allow them to continue generating power under conditions written decades ago, he explains. Until a new license is issued, decades of environmental damage continues unmitigated and he says it is time for Congress to remove the “perverse” incentive created by these annual licenses. Congress is considering changes to the laws governing non-federal hydropower dam licenses in its energy bill. The House energy bill (HR 4), passed earlier this year, contains modest changes to hydropower licensing, while the latest Senate bill introduced by Majority Leader Daschle (D-SD) takes a more extensive look at the issue. “Congress to date has largely been silent on the role of state environmental agencies,” adds Fahlund. “We strongly urge the Senate to protect the ability of these state agencies to enforce state standards for water quality and fish and wildlife protection.”
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