21st Century Dams Act Introduced

Published 7/9/2021  |  Hydropower Reform Coalition

Today, Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced H.R. 4375, the bipartisan Twenty-First Century Dams Act. This bill makes a $25.8 billion investment in enhancing the safety, grid resilience benefits, and power generating capacity of America’s existing dams while also providing historic funding to remove dams that are no longer necessary. Kuster was joined by Representatives Don Young (AK-AL), Kim Schrier M.D. (WA-08), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Scott Peters (CA-52) in introducing this legislation today. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will introduce companion legislation in the Senate later this month.

“Our nation’s hydropower fleet developed over the last century and it is past time to take a critical look at the future of this energy source. Some projects where environmental and social justice impacts outweigh societal benefits are candidates for removal, while others would benefit from investments to address deferred maintenance and provide environmental upgrades,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Chair, Hydropower Reform Coalition. “We applaud Representative Kuster for her leadership in bringing diverse interests together and recognizing the opportunity to make investments that address safety issues and improve environmental performance and the health of our nation’s rivers.”

Member organizations of the Hydropower Reform Coalition worked closely with Representative Kuster’s office to provide input on the legislative language, working collaboratively with the hydropower industry towards shared goals of improving public safety, enhancing environmental performance of existing facilities, and creating a new source of funding for removal of facilities with significant ongoing impacts to river ecosystems.

What’s happening?

Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduced legislation that accelerates the rehabilitation, retrofit, and removal of the nation’s more than 90,000 existing dams – the majority of which were constructed more than 70 years ago. The bill, which provides $24.8 billion in spending over 5 years, is designed to improve public safety, enhance clean energy output, and decarbonization, and to restore the health, cultural, and economic benefits of our nation’s rivers.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has pledged to introduce companion legislation in July.

Why is this timely?

This bill is urgent and timely, as Congress and the Biden administration consider national infrastructure legislation.

Dams are a significant part of our nation’s infrastructure, and this Act is the first to comprehensively put them on the table. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave dams a “D” grade on its 2021 report card on America’s infrastructure. The failure of Michigan’s Edenville Dam last year, and the spillway breach at California’s Oroville Dam in 2017, raised the alarm about the safety of dams in the U.S., especially as we experience more extreme flood events.

Climate change makes it imperative that we chart a course for the future of our nation’s existing dams that includes public safety, restoration of healthy rivers and enhancement of the clean energy and grid resilience benefits of existing hydropower.

What are the elements of the legislation?

We urge Congress to enact all of the elements of this important package together. The elements include:

  • Increase federal financial assistance to improve dam safety – $9.75 billion total over 5 years.
  • Leverage the federal tax code to incentivize investments in dam safety, environmental improvements, grid flexibility and availability, and dam removal – $4.71 billion for a 30% Tax Credit
  • Create a public source of climate resilience and conservation funding for removal of dams that have reached the end of their useful life – $7.5 billion over 5 years.
  • Invest in existing federal dams and relevant research programs to accelerate decarbonization, increase renewable power generation, enhance environmental performance, improve dam safety, and leverage innovative technologies – $11 billion over 5 years .

What are the benefits of the legislation?

If enacted, the bill – which is not focused on any particular U.S. dam, river or region — would restore over 10,000 miles of rivers by enhancing their climate resilience, through the rehabilitation or removal of hundreds of the nation’s most hazardous dams. The legislation would also improve the performance and safety of the existing hydropower fleet. Additionally, it would provide a significant investment in existing federal dams to accelerate decarbonization, enhance environmental performance and improve dam safety. Collectively, these efforts will support or create approximately 500,000 jobs.

Read more about the specifics of the bill here.

Let us know your thoughts

We encourage you to reach out to your Members of Congress to express your support for the Twenty-First Century Dam Act. If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear them. Please reach out to us at hydro@hydroreform.org to discuss this bill.