Hydropower doesn't need any more loopholesSubmitted by Rupak Thapaliya on Fri, 2015-09-04 00:00
Tim Palmer OPINION
Sept. 3, 2015
A bill pending in the U.S. Senate would give the hydroelectric industry and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the kind of unconditional authority more akin to what the Robber Barons enjoyed in the late 1800s, than to what reasonable people might expect today.
Consider the last time a plan like Senate Bill 1236 was hatched. It was 2005. If anyone wonders how, during the last decade, a million new gas wells got drilled while people's water supplies were fouled, streams depleted, sewage plants overloaded and air polluted, look no further than the "Halliburton loophole" — a Dick-Cheney-greased act of Congress. That Bush-era law exempted the gas industry from regulations that otherwise apply to the injection of undisclosed toxins into groundwater.
Now, with Congress leaning in its favor, the hydropower industry wants to ensure its share of fracking-style freedom. Proposed by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the so-called Hydropower Improvement Act of 2015 would exempt the industry from long-standing laws that protect rivers and streams from pollution.
Under the guise of promoting renewable energy, the bill would eliminate the ability of fish and wildlife agencies to require compromises when those public resources are imperiled. It would restrict the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the states to uphold accepted standards for pollution, temperature, and flow under the Clean Water Act and other statutes, and make sure that they are not violated. The bill would limit citizen involvement and appeals when members of the public, including local governments and Indian tribes, are concerned about their rivers, jobs and communities. It would dispose of due process in investigation, review and negotiation, giving sole authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose mission, political culture and history is unabashedly to increase hydropower production.
Because this measure slashes virtually all ties of hydro-proposals to environmental regulations, it makes you wonder about its sponsors' boast that they are ensuring "clean" energy. If this bill is so great for the environment, why does it eliminate environmental reviews?