Monday, August 13, 2012

Hydroelectric Power Opponents Face Federal Funding Cutoff

Environmental organizations opposing new hydroelectric dams or pursuing litigation seeking to tear down existing dams would lose all their federal funding under a bill introduced by Washington Congressman Doc Hastings. HR 6247, entitled “Saving Our Dame and New Hydropower Development and Jobs Act,” was introduced August 1 and referred to Hasting’s own House Natural Resources Committee and to Michigan Congressman Fred Upton’s Energy and Commerce Committee. Though any floor action on this bill will not likely take place until after the November elections, it already has the environmental groups it targets up in arms.

This simple 17 page legislative measure would strip all federal funding from regular dam construction opponents National Wildlife Federation, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited, which have received millions of taxpayer dollars in past years, and used that money to pay lawyers to bring lawsuits seeking to prevent new dam construction and also to tear down existing hydroelectric generating facilities. Natural Resources Committee spokesman Spencer Pederson describes the bill as “a policy statement about the importance of hydropower and how taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to destroy that resource.”

About 8% of American electricity is generated by hydroelectric facilities, with California having the largest number of power generating dams, and Washington having the largest overall hydroelectric generating capacity. California’s House Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock has denounced American Rivers as an “extremist organization” in the past, and this new bill raises the ante on that remark, with American Rivers Senior Director of Government Relations Jim Bradley now calling HR 6247 “incredibly extreme.” Bradley says “it’s a little bit shocking for a member of Congress to create this kind of blacklist.”

Of course, dams are used for flood control and water conservation as well as power generation, especially in the western states. And the three groups targeted by this bill do have a history of going to court weighing in on the side of fish and other aquatic species whose habitats are affected by dam construction and operation. Nevertheless, the rhetoric already generated by introduction of this bill sounds more like election campaign talking points than serious policy debate. Only time will tell whether the measure ever gets out of the committees to which it has been referred.

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