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MARCH 12, 2003
2:22 PM
CONTACT:  American Rivers
Andrew Fahlund, Rob Masonis or Liz Birnbaum,
House Energy Bill: Hydropower Title Worse than Last Year's;
American Rivers Testimony Available at
WASHINGTON - March 12 - As the House of Representatives moves towards a new comprehensive energy bill, American Rivers today testified before the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee the current draft would rollback 80 years of established environmental protections at hydropower dams in the name of regulatory "streamlining." Under the currently proposed language, more than 500 dams on 150 rivers in 38 states would sail through less-stringent licensing procedures in the coming 15 years -- costing the nation a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore thousands of river miles.

The conservation community called on Congress drop the so-called "Title III" altogether and instead allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other federal agencies to continue their promising initiative to reform the hydropower licensing process with administrative changes.

"As currently written, the bill would not 'streamline' anything. Instead it would let dam owners off the hook from their most basic environmental obligations and strangle everyone that might object in red tape," said Rob Masonis, Northwest Regional Director of American Rivers. "This language is actually worse than anything contained in either the House or Senate energy bills from last year."

Specifically, Title III would allow utilities to avoid installing fish ladders, elevators, or providing other means for fish to pass safely around their dams. Although no panacea for the environmental impacts of hydropower dams, fish passage is a proven tool that has lead to the rebound of many fish stocks on dammed rivers across the country. Under Title III, utilities could avoid these obligations and instead artificially propagate fish, protect offsite habitat, or contribute to environmental trust funds.

"Tossing aside such a proven technique for environmental restoration makes about as much sense as putting lead back into gasoline," Masonis said.

Title III would also tie the hands of federal and state natural resource agencies and the public during the hydropower licensing negotiations -- freeing FERC to cut sweetheart deals with the utilities seeking new licenses. The language would hinder the National Forest Service and other agencies seeking operations changes to protect federal lands. The public would be held to different levels of participation than the dam-owning utility -- even though rivers are public resources, not private lands.

Should Title III become law, it would preempt a promising initiative from FERC to administratively overhaul the hydropower licensing process. The Commission has thus far drawn heavily on consensus positions developed by industry moderates, the conservation community, and state representatives during negotiations conducted over the past several years.

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