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On November 17, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that $38 million in grant funding is available in fiscal year 2023 for fish passage projects. The goal is to award this funding to projects that address outdated, unsafe, or obsolete dams, culverts, levees, and other barriers. This funding effort is part of an overall $200 million commitment set out in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and is part of the National Fish Passage Program (NFPP). The NFPP is a voluntary program that provides direct technical and financial assistance for restoration of aquatic organism passage and aquatic connectivity.

Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Funding Grants for Fish Passage

On August 1, the Supreme Court of California upheld a decision by the Court of Appeal, which found that the Federal Power Act (FPA) preempts application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when the state is acting on its own behalf as licensee of a hydroelectric project.

Continue Reading Supreme Court of California Finds FERC License Preempts Challenge to FERC Order

On September 22, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) issued an order on rehearing (Rehearing Order), denying the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (Interior) request to include a requirement for a hydroelectric project to notify resource agencies if any activity may affect a federally listed Endangered Species Act (ESA) species and had not already been considered in the issued license (Notification Recommendation).

Continue Reading FERC Denies Interior’s Requirement for Ongoing Species Notifications

This article was republished in Pratt’s Energy Law Report (Vol. 22-10, November-December 2022).

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication version of its proposal to re-write the Clean Water Act Section 401 rule (Certification Proposal), which, if finalized, is expected to have far-reaching impacts on hydroelectric licensing and relicensing. The Certification Proposal is intended by EPA to replace the version of the rule finalized under the Trump administration in 2020 (2020 Rule). While the Certification Proposal maintains some aspects of the 2020 Rule, it differs in some significant areas and in many ways reverts back to the 1971 regulations.

Continue Reading EPA’s Clean Water Act Certification Proposal to Significantly Impact Hydropower Licensing

On April 3, representatives of the hydropower industry, Native American tribes, and conservation organizations provided a package of proposed legislative reforms to the Federal Power Act (FPA) to the ranking members of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. The package, which was developed as part of the Stanford University Uncommon Dialogue on hydropower and river conservation, is the result of year-long intense negotiations between a variety of hydropower stakeholders.

Continue Reading Hydropower Industry Teams With Tribes, Conservation Organizations to Develop Legislative Package for Licensing Reform

On October 21, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated and remanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 final rule (Certification Rule).

In response to the court’s ruling, EPA is implementing the previous water quality certification rule nationwide, which had been in effect since 1971, while it develops a new rule.

Pursuant to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), no federal license or permit that may result in a discharge to U.S. waters may be issued unless the state or authorized Tribe, where the discharge will originate, issues a water quality certification or waives the certification requirement.
Continue Reading Court Decision to Vacate, Remand State Water Quality 401 Certification Rule

On November 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the more than $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF). The Senate had already approved the bill back in August, and it now heads to the president’s desk for signature. The BIF represents a core piece of President Biden’s agenda and provides significant funding for infrastructure improvements in energy and water, including over $900 million in waterpower incentives for new and existing hydropower, pumped storage, and marine energy. Additional spending is provided for dam safety and removal.

Continue Reading Infrastructure Bill Provides Opportunities for Hydroelectric Industry

Landowners and permit applicants received an email notification this week that the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) would not be processing their requests for coverage under a variety of Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 Nationwide Permits (NWPs). NWPs are general permits that authorize activities under Clean Water Act Section 404 that “will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects when performed separately, and will have only minimal cumulative adverse effects on the environment.” CWA Section 404 (e)(1).

Continue Reading Army Corps Halts Coverage Under Nationwide Permits

Section 7(h) of the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and Section 21 Federal Power Act (FPA) respectively vest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) natural gas pipeline certificate holders or hydroelectric licensees with the ability to exercise the federal power of eminent domain to condemn property when the project proponent is unable to acquire necessary rights by contract or negotiation with the property owner. On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court, in PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC v. New Jersey, No. 19-1039, held that the 11th Amendment of the Constitution does not bar a certificate holder under the NGA from exercising eminent domain to condemn state-owned property. Significantly for hydropower projects, the Supreme Court’s holding also potentially provides clarity that the 11th Amendment is not a bar to the analogous Section 21 provision of the FPA if a hydroelectric licensee must exercise eminent domain over project-necessary state-owned lands.

Continue Reading Hydroelectric Impact of PennEast Supreme Court Gas Pipeline Condemnation Ruling

On July 6, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a funding opportunity for the research and development of wave energy converter (WEC) technologies for advancement toward wave energy commercial viability. As much as $27 million in federal funding is available for WEC technologies still in the early stages of development for testing at PacWave, an open ocean wave energy testing facility consisting of two sites, each located just a few miles from the deep-water port of Newport, OR.

Continue Reading Department of Energy Announces Funding Opportunity for Wave Energy Converter Technology