Hydropower Legislation Seeks to Undermine the Clean Water Act on its 43rd Anniversary

Pit River PG&E Watershed | Hydropower Reform Coalition

October 18, 2015, marked the 43rd anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This bedrock environmental law has been protecting our waters since 1972.

As some of you may remember a catalyst for the Clean Water Act was the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching on fire and the Clean Water Act has brought us a long way from that. But it’s still needed 43 years later. Unfortunately, the Clean Water Act is constantly under attack by corporate interests, and their allies in Congress, seeking to weaken the law’s protection of rivers, streams, and wetlands.

The latest attack comes in the form of H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act.

H.R. 8 contains provisions in its hydropower section that will undermine the Clean Water Act. This energy bill will allow large utilities to ignore State and Tribal requirements under the Clean Water Act that their dams be required to meet water quality standards. This dirty water language appears to have been added to benefit a small number of huge corporations who are afraid that their dams, built many decades ago, might now have to meet the Clean Water Act’s modern standards.

For example, H.R. 8 would exempt Exelon Corporation from meeting its responsibility to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which is why this provision is opposed by Maryland’s Republican Administration. It also would exempt Pacific Gas and Electric from doing its part to meet water quality requirements on rivers that have been impaired by California’s historic drought, which is why the State of California strongly opposes the bill. If this provision is enacted, the burden for protecting these and other important bodies of water will fall disproportionately on other users of the river, but especially agricultural producers and municipalities.

Hydropower licenses are issued for up to 50 years. Hydropower facilities that are coming up for relicensing now were first constructed before the Clean Water Act and virtually all modern environmental laws were in place. It is during relicensing proceedings that the public gets the opportunity to ensure that dam owners make the necessary changes to comply with the Clean Water Act and other modern laws. The opportunity to mitigate for the damage to the environment, while still providing reliable electricity, only arises once in a generation or two.

This bill is an unprecedented assault on our nation’s rivers and the people and wildlife that depend upon them. Its passage would end the balance in hydropower licensing, instead tipping the scales in favor of huge utilities and against taxpayers.

If you care about the Clean Water Act, as well as irrigation, Native American treaty rights, wildlife, recreational fishing, commercial fishing, whitewater boating, water quality, municipal water supply, fire safety, flood control, or any other purpose other than generating power, then you should urge your Representative to vote NO on H.R. 8.

Originally published at American Rivers.

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