Enviros, industry differ on cause as FERC meets on licensing delays

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As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meets today and tomorrow to look at 51 delayed hydropower dam licenses, conservationists are calling on Congress to reform the agency's licensing practices, which they say are fraught with "industry foot-dragging and intergovernmental bickering." Industry officials are applauding the meetings and claim that with 50 percent of the nation's dams up for relicensing in the next 10 years, streamlining certification procedures is a necessity. FERC will examine 51 of the longest-pending hydropower dam certification applications as the agency discusses reforming its licensing procedures this week. The licensing process typically takes five years, and certifies a dam for 30-50 years. If the certification process takes longer than five years, however, FERC issues temporary, one-year licenses until the application is finished. According to the National Hydropower Association, an industry group, some dams, such as the Escondido Project, have been waiting 30 years for certification. A report issued Friday by the Hydropower Reform Coalition, which includes more than 100 conservation and recreation groups, expressed concern about the number of one-year licenses given to dams on FERC's waiting list. "On average, the projects that are the subject of this report have been granted seven annual licenses to date," the report said. "Hydropower licensing proceedings are inherently complex and delays are inevitable," it continued. "However, when one looks at some of the common elements of these issues, a clearer picture of cause emerges. Incomplete or amended applications and later disputes over information needs, a basic lack of cooperation among agencies, and inconsistent agency guidance are each examples of these elements."

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