Pro- and Anti-Hydro Groups Argue Over U.S. Report

Lobby groups for the hydroelectric power industry in the U.S. and environmental groups that oppose hydro have differing opinions on a recently-released federal report dealing with the subject.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-05-03 <> The report from the General Accounting Office, entitled ‘Licensing Hydropower Projects: Better Time and Cost Data Need to Reach Informed Decisions About Process Reforms,’ fails to make sense of the federal licensing process that dam owners and interested citizens have to face every day in pursuit of renewable energy, claims the National Hydropower Association. The report recognizes that the licensing process “is far more complex, time-consuming, and costly today than it was 30 to 50 years ago,” but the NHA says it does not recommend changes to improve the process. “Basically, the GAO report loses sight of the forest for the trees,” explains executive director Linda Church Ciocci. “The anecdotal evidence and the on-the-record testimony from just about everyone shows that the hydropower licensing process is broken. We know from experience that a process that takes eight to ten years, cost tens of millions of dollars, and results in expensive litigation is not serving the public interest well.” “Anyone who simply reads the description of the licensing process, captured so crisply in the report, will see just what a Byzantine process it is,” she adds. “To claim otherwise, as some are trying to do, is to stick your head in the sand. Fundamental licensing reform is the only way we will have a process that encourages clean energy development and healthy rivers.” A version of hydropower licensing reform is contained in both Republican and Democratic energy bills. The Bush administration made hydro reform an issue in the election campaign and is likely to include licensing reform in its energy package to be released this month. Responding to the same GAO report, American Rivers, American Whitewater and Trout Unlimited say the agency responsible for regulating hydropower dams lacks the data to accurately analyze the efficacy of its licensing process. The environmental groups say both bills before Congress would roll back environmental protections at hydro dams under the guise of streamlining, and they want FERC to “get its shop in order” and want Congress to strike damaging changes to the hydropower licensing process from the legislation. FERC cannot make informed decisions on the need for further reforms or changes to the licensing process, the GAO report notes, although the federal agency oversees licenses for 2,500 hydropower dams. “Today’s report from the General Accounting Office illustrates that the hydropower industry and their lobbyists have been pacing the halls of Congress with a solution in search of a problem,” says Andrew Fahlund of American Rivers. “Congress should not consider any changes to the licensing process until FERC can convincingly demonstrate that the process is flawed,” adds Matt Sicchio of the Hydropower Reform Coalition. “The risk to the long-term health of our nation’s rivers is simply too high to rely on anecdotes from the hydropower industry.” The U.S. bills have been introduced by Republican Joe Barton’s of Texas in the House and by Republican Frank Murkowski of Alaska in the Senate. The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, which was criticized in the GAO report, will release its own report on hydropower licensing later this month. NHA represents 80,000 MW of hydropower in North America and 61 percent of non-federal domestic hydropower capacity. American Rivers was founded in 1973 to promote river conservation.

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