FERC Must Respond
by Ken Dey
A federal court Tuesday ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to answer a 7-year old petition from a coalition of environmental groups asking the agency to examine the impacts Idaho Power Co.'s Hells Canyon dams have on threatened or endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead.
The order by the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals gave FERC 45 days to answer either yes or no to the group's petition asking for further analysis.
"Petitioners are entitled to an end to FERC's marathon round of administrative keep-away and soon," the court wrote in its decision.
"We applaud the court's decision," said Connie Kelleher, a spokeswoman for American Rivers, one of three groups that filed the petition. "The court has told FERC in very strong terms that it can't avoid its responsibilities to protect endangered species by sticking its head in the sand."
American Rivers, along with Idaho Rivers United and Save Our Wild Salmon, filed the original petition in 1997 asking FERC to consult with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration fisheries (also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service) to ensure that their actions, such as issuing a hydropower dam license, do not jeopardize the continued existence of threatened or endangered species.
Last year, American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United sought a "writ of mandamus" from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals compelling FERC to respond to the 1997 petition.
FERC is in the process of evaluating an application by Idaho Power to relicense the three Hells Canyon dams.
The current license granted in 1955 expires in 2005.
In the new license application, FERC is consulting on the impacts of the dam, but the groups have argued that those impacts should have also been addressed in the current license when salmon and steelhead were added to the endangered species list in the early 1990s.
"The ESA requires agencies to take quick action to protect endangered species, yet FERC's avoidance and delay means endangered salmon have gone six more years without critical recovery measures," said Sara Eddie, attorney for Idaho Rivers United. "We can only hope that now FERC will take that responsibility seriously and order Idaho Power to protect these fish."
Russ Jones, a spokesman for Idaho Power Co., said Tuesday the company hadn't seen the court order and couldn't comment on the decision.
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