On May 26, the Senate Finance Committee voted to advance legislation that would amend certain energy tax provisions in an effort to combat climate change, curtail greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs. The bill, known as the Clean Energy for America Act, would provide an “emissions-based, technology-neutral tax credit” for facilities with zero or net negative emissions as well as certain energy storage facilities and high-capacity transmission lines. The bill includes several provisions that would benefit hydropower facilities, including an extension of the production tax credit through the end of 2022, which will encourage new hydropower development and a provision that would make pumped storage hydroelectric facilities eligible for the investment tax credit. It would also include tax credits to encourage environmental, safety, and efficiency improvements at existing hydropower facilities and to remove dams that have reached the end of their useful life.
Continue Reading Proposed Legislation to Impact Hydropower

On March 31, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello found that the Federal Power Act (FPA) is the exclusive authority with regards to controversies related to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) -issued hydroelectric licenses, including challenges that stem from the permitting decisions of other federal agencies acting under their independent statutory authority. In Save the Colorado v. Semonite, Civil Action No. 18-cv-03258 (D. Colo. Mar. 31, 2021), the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over an appeal of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit and the associated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Endangered Species Act (ESA) biological opinion since these are actions “inhere[d] in the controversy” related to the FERC license.
Continue Reading District Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Challenge Involving FERC License Amendment

Addressing environmental justice (EJ) has been an immediate priority for the Biden administration. Within a week of taking the oath of office, President Biden issued a sweeping executive order with a number of EJ initiatives, including creation of a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council consisting of the heads of each Cabinet-level and independent federal agency. The order also directed federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of their missions” through development of programs and policies aimed at addressing disproportionately high adverse environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities.

Continue Reading FERC Increases Focus on Environmental Justice

The question of how to regulate temperature in water bodies is one that states in the Northwest have struggled with for years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addressed that question on May 18, 2020, when it released a draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to achieve water quality standards for temperature in certain reaches of the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington. This new TMDL comes a few months after a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Columbia Riverkeeper v. Wheeler, requiring the agency to take the lead after Oregon and Washington failed to submit their own TMDL. Comments on the draft TMDL are due by the end of July 21, 2020.

Continue Reading EPA Issues Draft Temperature TMDL for Columbia and Snake Rivers

In light of the coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance directing that all Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region (Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.) allow maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees. This guidance applies to the headquarters of the agencies most involved in regulating hydroelectric projects, such as the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of the Interior (DOI), including the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), including the Forest Service (FS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency within DOE, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), housed within the Department of the Army, have also taken significant steps to respond to COVID-19.

Continue Reading Federal Agency COVID-19 Updates Impacting the Hydropower Industry

On December 9, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to revisit the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit’s decision in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (2019), allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.

The key holding of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, which concerned the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted request for water quality certification within one year.  The D.C. Circuit held that the plain language of CWA section 401 establishes a maximum period of one year for states to act on a request for water quality certification.  Accordingly, the court further held that FERC erred in concluding that the “withdrawal-and-resubmittal” of the water quality certification application on an annual basis resets the one-year statutory time period for state action under section 401.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Declines to Hear Clean Water Act Section 401 Case

In an order on rehearing issued April 18, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC)—applying the newly minted Section 36 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. § 823g—decided to extend the new license term for Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) Poe Hydroelectric Project by 10 years.  Pacific Gas and Electric, 167 FERC ¶ 61,047 (2019).  FERC’s initial relicensing order granted a new 40-year license term for the project, but on rehearing, the Commission decided that the new requirements of FPA Section 36 warranted the statutory maximum license term of 50 years.  FERC’s April 18 order on rehearing provides insight into how FERC interprets Section 36, which greatly expands the type of investments made by licensees that FERC must consider when determining the length of a new license term for a hydroelectric project.

Continue Reading FERC Issues First Order Applying New Federal Power Act Section 36 by Granting a 50-Year License Term

The Northwest Hydroelectric Association (NWHA) has appointed Troutman Sanders partner Angela Levin to serve as general counsel for a three-year term beginning February 2019. Established in 1981, the NWHA serves the hydropower industry, promoting the region’s waterpower as a clean, efficient energy while protecting the fisheries and environment. As general counsel, Levin will serve as the chief legal officer of the organization, responsible for all NWHA legal affairs, including acting as policy and regulatory counsel on federal, regional, and state issues affecting hydropower interests in the Western U.S.

“I am honored to serve the Northwest Hydroelectric Association in the capacity of general counsel,” Levin said. “The organization provides a vital voice for the hydropower community, promoting regulation and advocating for protection and advancement of existing hydropower resources, as well as responsible development of untapped hydro in the United States.”
Continue Reading Northwest Hydroelectric Association Appoints Troutman Sanders Partner Angela Levin to General Counsel

The U.S. Department of the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works has issued a policy directive memorandum requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to adhere to a “default time period” of 60 days for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401 with regard to USACE’s issuance of dredge and fill permits under CWA Section 404.  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water quality certification.

Continue Reading U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Tighten Clean Water Act 401 Certification Timeframes

On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a unanimous decision, granted a petition for review in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, No. 14-1271 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019). The key holding in the case, which concerns the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted application for water quality certification within one year from when it was initially filed in 2006. The applicant for many years had followed, at the request of the States, the common industry practice of “withdraw-and-resubmit” of its water quality certification application in an attempt to annually reset the one-year time period for the States to act, as established under CWA section 401. The D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe invalidated this practice as a means of resetting the statutory clock, instead holding that the clear text of CWA establishes that “a full year is the absolute maximum” time for a state to decide on a water quality certification application.
Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Strikes Down “Withdraw-and-Resubmit” Practice for State Water Quality Certifications