Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Field Hearing On Controversial Hydropower Development & Jobs Act

Aug 15: On August 1, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced H.R.6247, the Saving Our Dams and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act. According to a release from Chairman Hastings, the bill "protects and promotes hydropower resources by ending practices that diminish existing hydropower, cutting regulatory red-tape, generating new non-federal funding for new projects and improving transparency." He indicated that hydropower is a clean, renewable form of energy that accounts for 70 percent of electricity in Washington State, seven percent of electricity generated in the U.S. and prevents 200 million annual metric tons of carbon emissions.

    Chairman Doc Hastings said, "This bill represents a clear vision and common sense reforms for how our Nation can protect existing hydropower and jumpstart new hydropower in order to produce more of this emissions-free and low-cost renewable energy. This bill would officially recognize hydropower as renewable energy and help eliminate government roadblocks and frivolous litigation that stifle development. Hydropower is an essential part of an all-of-the-above energy plan, and its expansion would create thousands of new American jobs, grow our economy and protect the environment."

    Today (August 15), Chairman Hastings held a legislative field hearing on the bill in Pasco, Washington. According to the announcement, the bill is designed to "protect the Federal Columbia River Power System, Power Marketing Administration customers, and Bureau of Reclamation dams and other facilities and to promote new Federal and other hydropower generation."The invited witnesses included representatives from: Grant County Public Utility District; Washington Association of Wheat Growers; United Power Trades Organization; Benton County Public Utility District; The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations; Idaho Council Member & Chairman of the Power Committee; Northwest Power & Conservation Council; and the Washington Potato Commission.
    The organization American Rivers, which was not invited to testify, issued a release saying the bill is "designed to muzzle critics of unsafe and environmentally destructive dams, while protecting lavish subsidies to irrigators and agribusinesses that derive their profits from those dams." Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers said, "This extreme proposal would jeopardize jobs, public safety, and the outdoor recreation industry that fuels the economic engines of so many communities across America."

    He said, "American Rivers strongly opposes this bill. It articulates a radical anti-environmental agenda. It caters to a few extremist water and power users that have received outlandish taxpayer support for decades and are unwilling to stop feeding at the public trough, no matter how much harm they inflict on rivers and the human and natural communities that depend on those rivers."

    In an opening statement at the hearing, Chairman Hastings said, "There is no disagreement about the importance of salmon recovery, but it must be clearly stated that dams are helping recovery. With significant improvements to Columbia and Snake River dams, more fish are in the river than before the dams were built-and fish survival past the dams are much higher than ever before-up to 98 percent in some cases. While some insist the choice is 'dams or fish', it's been proven we can have 'fish and dams.' . . .

    "Our current Northwest dam infrastructure cleanly powers our industries, businesses, jobs and families - and at low cost. But we must not be satisfied with the status quo. With ongoing threats to these dams and future development of hydropower as a renewable resource, we simply cannot take the status quo for granted. This is the purpose of the legislation that I've proposed and this hearing: to protect and promote our valuable hydropower assets."
    Among other provisions the bill would block imposition of the so called, "Chu Memo", ordered by the Secretary of Energy, that which Chairman Hastings said "could force power rate increases by BPA and other power marketing administrations (PMA's). The bill would also prohibit groups filing lawsuits against the government from collecting federal funds and grants. The Chairman said, "Why should taxpayers fund both defendants and plaintiffs?"
    The Chairman recounted that, "Back in 2000, the campaign to tear out the Snake River dams was waged as a full public debate, but the dam removal extremists lost that battle. They lost because the people of the Pacific Northwest know that removal of these dams would be an extreme action that would cost jobs, increase power rates, and harm the region's economy. And they lost because the science doesn't even show removal will actually recover fish. This defeat didn't end the single-minded agenda of the dam removal extremists. Over the past decade, they changed their tactics from the overt to the more covert - but they are as committed and well-funded as ever. They've poured their money into lawyers and lawsuits aimed at pressuring federal agencies and seeking to advance their agenda in the courts, and particularly in the courtroom of a Portland judge who's now admitted his anti-dam bias. . ."
    American Rivers highlighted a provision which they said would provide "An expensive new subsidy would give blanket permission to private water users to build new dams, whether or not they are in the public interest. Taxpayers would then be required to reimburse the full cost of the private parties' investment." Additionally, they called the provision denying federal funds to groups that initiate lawsuits, "a shameful and unprecedented attack on American constitutional protections of free speech, the right to seek redress from our government, equal access to justice, and due process of law."

    Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, statements, announcements and a video (click here). Access a release and summary information from American Rivers (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.6247 (click here). [#Energy/Hydro]

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