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Hydro Relicensing Redux: Will Dams Be Saved?

Fortnightly Magazine - April 1 2000


"I don't think any of us in the environmental community or in the resource agency would want to see licenses delayed any longer than they currently are. In fact, the environment suffers from delaying the process," he says.

Fahlund says delays in relicensing occur when hydro operators withhold studies and information necessary for agencies to determine the appropriate conditions for protection of natural resources.

"I would prefer the process to remain about as lengthy as it gets [which is about five years]," he says.

Fahlund is opposed to Sen. Craig's position that environmental agencies should consider economics as well as the environment.

"It is appropriate to take economics in consideration after [a project] has met certain environmental requirements," he says. "We certainly don't take economics into consideration when we are saying, for instance, that a power plant has to meet certain standards under the [Clear Air Act]."

Furthermore, he believes that the agencies are sensitive to the economic considerations of a hydro power plant. "I think the agencies have an enormous sensitivity to the economics of these projects. But if they can't meet the standards that they are required to meet in order to meet modern environmental standards, they should not be permitted to operate," he says.

Meanwhile, WaterPower: The Clean Energy Coalition, a group formed late last year to encourage hydropower relicensing improvements, supports the Idaho senator's hydro power relicensing legislation, according to Joel Malina, executive director at WaterPower. The coalition recently lost its spokesperson, former FERC chair Elizabeth Moler. Moler recently left Washington, D.C. law firm Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. to become director-senior vice president of federal government affairs at Unicom Corp, according to Malina. The coalition now includes more than 500 organizations, representing utilities, business allies, municipalities, and environmental, labor, agricultural, recreational, and consumer groups, he says.

Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, deputy assistant administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, says the open forum on relicensing allows economics to be taken into consideration.

In Senate testimony last year, Rosenberg said, "There is extensive dialogue between FERC, the applicants, and resource agencies in almost every case. I don't think there would be a surprise that all of a sudden in the mail a mandatory condition arrives without previous discussion."

David J. Hayes, acting deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior, agrees. "[T]he current statutory authority that we have is straightforward and unbounded, without the kind of balancing you are looking for," Hayes told senators last year when questioned about considering economics in the relicensing process.

Fahlund adds that industry complaints that current relicensing causes plants to become uneconomic are driven by self-interest only.

"I don't see the crisis that the industry claims. Of the 143 licensed in the class of 1993, there was not a single license that was refused or surrendered because of project economics or environmental economics," he says.

Is FERC Anti-Hydro?
Congressmen challenge the FERC's authority to order dam removal.

While courts have shed light on the extent of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's power in hydro relicensing, the question of