U.S. Bill Waives Safeguards Against Hydro Dams

An environmental group in the United States says that proposed federal legislation would “recklessly waive” environmental and other obligations at hydropower dams to squeeze out a modest amount of additional energy.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-05-01 <SolarAccess.com> American Rivers says the Electricity Emergency Relief Act proposed by Rep Joe Barton contains two provisions that dramatically weaken environmental safeguards and private and public hydropower facilities. The bill is to be discussed today by the House Energy & Commerce Committee. “This bill uses California’s temporary energy shortfalls as a stalking horse for the permanent rollback of environmental safeguards at dams all across the country,” explains American Rivers president Rebecca Wodder. “The extra kilowatts would come at a terrible cost to recreational opportunities, the economy, and the health of our rivers.” Section 301 would allow private hydropower facilities to operate without minimum flows or any other “operational requirement of the license” upon request of a state governor during a declared power emergency, she notes. This waiver of licensing requirements would not require consent by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or any other agency. Presented as a solution to the temporary power crunch in California, the section would be a permanent authorization for the entire United States, and she warns that it could be invoked for two full years whenever there is a problem with power supply, generation or system reliability. Section 302 would give the Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation the authority to “maximize electric generation” at their hydro facilities and could exempt the agencies from environmental obligations, civil rights laws, labour protections, state water law, and the provisions covering repayment of U.S. power facility construction costs. The provision could allow BPA to violate a new, legally mandated plan to restore endangered Snake and Columbia River salmon, and she says the section declares that this waiver would not be subject to judicial review. “Giving hydropower operators free reign on our rivers in a drought year will have terrible consequences for salmon all along the Pacific coast,” explains Wodder.

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