In an order dated May 20, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, or the Commission) terminated the hydropower licenses for three projects located on the Tittabawasee River in Michigan—the Secord (P-10809), Smallwood (P-10810) and Sanford (P-2785) dams.  The termination by implied surrender follows a May 2020 breach at the Sanford dam and the breach and failure of the upstream Edenville dam, which was also operated by the same licensee before the Commission revoked the Edenville license in 2018 due to the licensee’s repeated noncompliance with FERC dam safety orders.  The resultant floods caused significant damage in the communities surrounding the dams and have been estimated by the State of Michigan to have caused economic harm exceeding $190 million.
Continue Reading FERC Terminates Licenses for Projects Involved in Michigan Dam Breach

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

On Tuesday, October 13, the National Hydropower Association (NHA) announced its partnership with American Rivers, the World Wildlife Fund, and other environmental groups in a “Joint Statement of Collaboration on U.S. Hydropower: Climate Solution and Conservation Challenge.” The Joint Statement, which was facilitated over the last two and a half years through Stanford University’s Uncommon Dialogue process, is a collaborative effort to address climate change by encouraging “the renewable energy and storage benefits of hydropower and the environmental and economic benefits of healthy rivers.”
Continue Reading Hydropower Advocates and Environmental Groups Reach Historic Agreement

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 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