New Dam Relicensing Rules
by Editorial Staff
This week the Bush Administration plans to release new rules that will dictate how the nation's hydroelectric dams are relicensed.
Power producers support the plan and believe the changes will eliminate what some have called "needless bureaucracy" that draws out the lengthy and expensive relicensing process. Environmental groups counter that the new regulations will help companies skirt environmental laws and provide power companies with a built in incentive to avoid reaching negotiated settlements over environmental and local community concerns.
The stakes are big for companies like Idaho Power currently in the middle of relicensing of the companies crown jewel, the 1,100-megawatt Hells Canyon complex on the Snake River.
Power companies say the current process can take years and cost millions of dollars which in turn are passed on to rate-payers.
But critics also contend the new rules give power companies the upper hand in negotiations at the expense of states, Indian tribes and other effected parties involved in a dam's relicensing. There is also concern that the new rules will lead to environmental problems. Advocates for endangered Salmon say the new rules could give power companies more say over how much water they are currently required to spill to aid in salmon migration.
"They want to challenge agency biologists and other scientists about their scientific basis of knowledge," said Robin Marks, from the environmental group American Rivers in Washington D.C.
Power companies argue the current federal regulations are too restrictive and an impediment to supplying the growing power needs and demands of consumers.
The new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules are part of the energy bill Bush signed in August, and they're due out as early as Thursday.
According to the changes, utilities now will be able to challenge requirements written into dam licenses by federal agencies. Such conditions can set river flows to boost recreation - or even force utilities to build fish ladders to bolster endangered salmon and steelhead runs.
In addition, the new rules will allow utilities to propose their own alternatives to such conditions.
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