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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

There has been a longstanding debate about how to apply the one-year time limit on Clean Water Act Section 401 certification decisions. The D.C. Circuit court in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (D.C. Cir. 2019) established a bright-line standard that a 401 certification must be issued or denied within one year of receipt of application, or the certification opportunity is waived. States cannot engage in actions to extend this deadline by requiring an applicant to withdraw and refile their application or by finding an application incomplete. This bright-line test was reinforced by the Second Circuit’s more recent decision in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation v. FERC, 991 F.3d 439 (2d Cir. 2021). This interpretation was also codified in EPA’s 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. See 85 Fed. Reg. 42210 (July 13, 2020). However, on July 2, the Fourth Circuit offered a different interpretation of Section 401 in its decision in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality v. FERC, No. 20-1655 (McMahan Hydro).

Continue Reading The Fourth Circuit Weighs In on the Interpretation of CWA Section 401

On March 17, 2021, a coalition of environmental organizations and clean energy groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a rulemaking that would amend the Uniform Systems of Accounts (USofA) requirements to disallow utilities from recovering the cost of membership from ratepayers in associations engaged in lobbying or other influence-related activities. CBD argues that these associations lack transparency, and many engage in “anti-climate” advocacy, including lobbying and campaigning activities, that do not align with the priorities of ratepayers.
Continue Reading Clean Energy Groups Ask FERC for Transparency Into “Anti-Climate” Groups

On April 15, Judge Andr√© Birotte Jr. for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California determined that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Bureau) operation of the Twitchell Dam with certain water flows did not result in an unlawful take of Southern California Steelhead trout, a species listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Plaintiffs San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and Los Padres Forestwatch claimed that the Bureau’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the Twitchell Dam limit the timing and volume of releases from the dam in a manner that has diminished trout habitat and resulted in harm to the trout population by impairing behavioral patterns including breeding, spawning, rearing, and migrating.
Continue Reading Judge Does Not Require Dam to Alter Water Flows for ESA Species Protection