Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act

Floor Speech

By:  Grace Napolitano
Date: April 10, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. NAPOLITANO. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 5 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the general premise of this bill but oppose the legislation as is due to the inclusion of the NEPA waiver.

Today we are debating H.R. 678, a bill that should be noncontroversial. In fact, it should have already been enacted into law. We all agree that adding small conduit hydropower projects is a great idea--no, it's really a wonderful idea--and H.R. 678 could have easily been passed through the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. But, unfortunately, my esteemed colleagues on the other side have chosen to turn this noncontroversial bill into a partisan fight over ideology by waiving compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, for Federal conduit projects.

As my colleague from Washington indicated, it means jobs. It means the addition of clean energy. It means all of those things, but to the exclusion of NEPA. As the gentleman mentioned, H.R. 678 would amend the Reclamation Project Act of 1939 and, thus, would facilitate and expand the private development of small conduit hydropower at the Bureau of Reclamation facilities. The legislation seeks to accomplish several goals, the most important of which is authorizing reclamation to develop and increase power at most of those facilities.

H.R. 678 also includes a provision that waives NEPA for all conduit projects generating less than 5 megawatts. The bill waives NEPA, which is on page 4, lines 14 to 18, even though the Bureau of Reclamation has implemented a categorical exclusion on their own accord to apply to small conduit projects. You may call it theoretical, but it has only been there 6 months, and it takes government a long time to get the word out to those parties. The waiver of NEPA in this bill is unnecessary, since Reclamation has already implemented this guidance through this categorical exclusion. The legislation seeks to solve a NEPA problem that does not exist. Unfortunately, some Members on the other side of the aisle have characterized the waiver of NEPA as ``the main purpose of this legislation.''

The waiver in this bill is the exact same waiver that Republicans put into the nearly identical bill last Congress. Just like the last time, the Senate will not pass it, and the bill will again expire in the Senate. This is totally unnecessary. This is not what anyone on this side of the aisle wants to see happen, and we would support the bill without the NEPA waiver.

Mr. Chairman, I oppose this legislation and ask my colleagues to do the same.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mrs. NAPOLITANO. Madam Chairman, I am glad that there are some visual effects here. It is important. But I don't know how all the canal and for the release, were there any levee issues. So it is important to have a NEPA review.

I would now like to yield 5 minutes to my colleague, the gentleman from California, Congressman Takano.

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Mrs. NAPOLITANO. I am. I thank the gentleman.

Madam Chair, as I've said before, this is a good bill with one bad provision in it, and that is the NEPA waiver that is not needed. It is not good environmental policy, and it is not good energy policy.

NEPA is not just red tape. It is a chance for the Federal Government to consider alternatives, to listen to not only the opponent, but get input from everybody impacted and to consider any possible impacts to the area.

At the appropriate time, I will offer an amendment to fit the one flaw in this bill. I hope my amendment is adopted and we'll send this to the Senate for passage.

Madam Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mrs. NAPOLITANO. Madam Chair, I rise in opposition to Tipton amendment No. 3 for the Congressional Record.

We are glad to see the author of the legislation recognizes that in developing conduit hydropower projects, NEPA is not the problem and that the flat NEPA waiver included in the base bill is not good policy.

We also welcome the apparent realization that insisting on an unwarranted and unwise NEPA waiver has been the anchor that has held this bill back and prohibited this largely noncontroversial measure from becoming law.

But to be clear, this amendment only tweaks language that should be removed from the bill entirely. The Tipton amendment circles around the edge of the problem while my amendment, which I'll offer in a few minutes, solves the problem by removing the waiver completely so we can move forward and support the bill.

Better yet, if the waiver is removed, there is no need for the artificially low cap on the size of these projects contained in the base bill, which is why my amendment will increase the cap from 5 to 15 megawatts. The Tipton amendment does nothing to raise the cap on these projects.

The Tipton amendment is a significant step in the right direction for the bill's sponsor, and we will not oppose it and will work with the sponsor and Senate to perfect the language. However, my amendment, which we'll see momentarily, is better energy policy and better environmental policy. The amendment is a start, this particular amendment, but I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on my amendment to really fix this legislation.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mrs. NAPOLITANO. Madam Chair, my amendment is very simple. It would strike the NEPA, known as the National Environmental Policy Act, waiver and give the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Bureau of Reclamation, the authority to apply Reclamation's directives and standards for lease of power privilege projects, which is known as LOPP.

The Bureau of Reclamation on its own accord has applied a categorical exclusion, known as CE, to small conduit hydropower projects. In fact, their CE went even further. It can be used to expedite a wide variety of low-impact hydropower projects built on Reclamation's water infrastructure. The main point of the legislation is to clarify that Reclamation has jurisdiction over the development of conduit projects on Reclamation facilities.

As I have mentioned before, the sponsor's amendment only tweaks the language that should be removed from the bill entirely. The Tipton amendment tinkers around the edge of the problem while my amendment solves the problem by removing the waiver completely.

As a compromise, my amendment also increases the megawatt limitation from 5 to 15 megawatts for small conduit hydro projects. This would allow for more power to be created at those existing facilities. Without the NEPA waiver, the agency can utilize its own categorical exclusion, which has no megawatt limitation, and therefore makes the cap on this legislation arbitrary. The NEPA waiver is unnecessary, and I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on my amendment.

Let me point out that it is my understanding that there have been some projects built under the current--not the CE--that have taken a lot more time and have been costly. And with a categorical exclusion, there will be a cut not only in the cost but in time because it only involves staff and the cost will be diminished.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mrs. NAPOLITANO. The gentleman's amendment makes technical changes that staff has brought to our attention, and it addresses a few of the administration's concerns.

The amendment clarifies that the projects already permitted under FERC would not see any regulatory uncertainty with this bill's passage. We are also in agreement with the amendment changes that require greater consultation with irrigation districts and water user associations prior to the approval of the Lease of Power Privilege.

We have no objections to this technical amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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