E&E News: Industry defends House energy bill as provisions head to floor

Industry defends House energy bill as provisions head to floor
Hannah Northey, Energy & Environment News
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2015

http://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2015/11/18/stories/1060028244

Five major energy trade groups today defended a comprehensive energy package in the House that would revamp the nation's process for licensing hydropower projects, rebutting a number of criticisms environmental groups have raised with the language.

The National Hydropower Association, Edison Electric Institute, American Public Power Association, Large Public Power Council and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association defended the House bill, H.R. 8, in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Existing processes for authorizing hydropower projects are antiquated, they said, and the "North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act" provides much needed but modest steps toward improving federal reviews. "The regulatory requirements alone are causing investors to favor lower-cost resources with emissions instead of renewable, non-emitting hydropower," they wrote.

The industry groups also attached a white paper in which they moved to dispel what they called "troubling accusations" from more than 200 environmental groups that last week called the House bill and its hydropower provisions an "unprecedented assault" on the nation's rivers and environmental laws (E&ENews PM, Nov. 10).

Environmental, recreational, fishing and water quality groups argued that provisions in the House bill -- part of an amendment that Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) introduced to bolster hydropower -- were developed in secret, with no input from recreation and conservation interests or the states, tribes and federal natural resources agencies.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the amendment by voice vote in September, but only after Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) voiced his opposition.

EEI, NHA and other groups said the legislation updates a process that's outdated and allows state and federal regulators to take too long on permitting decisions. And unlike assertions from environmental groups, the bill does not threaten critical laws, they said.

"Contrary to various inaccurate statements and exaggerated claims, the hydropower provisions would neither repeal nor undercut the timely exercise of authority by any state or federal resource agency or Indian tribe to administer the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act or any other federal environmental law," the groups wrote.

McNerney's and McMorris Rodgers' amendment would direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consult with agencies and tribes in developing a schedule for all federal approvals of nonfederal hydropower and would authorize the U.S. courts of appeals to grant limited extensions of time as may be requested by agencies and tribes. The bill would also, among other things, expedite the licensing process for closed-loop pumped storage projects and establish an expedited FERC license amendment approval process for increasing hydropower capacity or efficiency.

Whereas fishing and environmental groups argued the language would allow large utilities to ignore state and tribal requirements under the Clean Water Act so that their dams meet water quality standards, the trade groups said that's not the case. The bill imposes a deadline only for agencies to act; it does not dictate what they must focus on or the outcome of their decisions, EEI, NHA and the other groups wrote.

"We think this is a far cry from giving clean energy developers a right to 'avoid' or 'ignore' environmental laws," they wrote.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said yesterday that the comprehensive package -- which has passed committee -- will hit the floor the week of Nov. 30 (E&E Daily, Nov. 18).