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Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


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

I do rise in support of the general premise--I repeat--the general premise of this legislation, but oppose the legislation as amended. I would like to mention that only 3 out of 15 Democrats support it. So while it is bipartisan, it is minor bipartisanship on this particular issue.

H.R. 2842 does seek to generate additional hydropower at the existing Bureau of Reclamation facilities--that is, Federal properties--through developing new process of conduit and in-canal hydropower, which we should be developing at a greater speed and length.

We cannot support this bill as amended, even though the original bill did also state it and an attempt was tried to be able to take this waiver language out on page 4, lines 12 to 15. We were unsuccessful, and we cannot support it because it does have a NEPA waiver, language that we cannot support.

We are in support of the general intent. H.R. 2842, the Federal conduits, continue to fall under Reclamation Lease of Power Privilege process, LOPP. It requires offering a preference to irrigation districts or water users associations with an existing contract, those that already have a contract, which we support.

It safeguards current project users by recognizing the project's primary authorized purposes and that no financial and/or operational costs will be incurred by the existing water and power users.

The Federal Power Marketing Administrations are also--and I repeat--are not obligated to purchase or market the power produced.

The legislation does go a step too far and includes an unnecessary and unwise blanket exemption from a critical environmental law.

If my colleagues on the other side had simply followed the advice of the National Hydropower Association and the conservation group American Rivers, we would have a noncontroversial bill which would have passed unanimously out of the House. We also received a letter from six environmental groups in opposition that I would like to include in the Record.

Proponents for exempting the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, will argue that government regulatory red tape is preventing the development of more hydropower. Reclamation already has the authority to comply with NEPA through categorical exemptions, and the system is working. Categorical exclusions have been issued for hydropower sites under the reclamation's LOPP process at three specific sites in Colorado: the Lemon, which was in 1989; the Grand Valley Power Plant in 2011; and Jackson Gulch in 1995.

NEPA compliance for other sites, in fact, has not been the bureaucratic chaos some would make it out to be. There are three projects in the home State of Colorado for my colleague, the sponsor of this bill. In Jordanelle, Utah, compliance took 15 months from start to finish to receive final permit in 2004. At Lake Carter, Colorado, it took 6 months to finish NEPA in 2010. At Ridgway, Colorado, an LOPP was just issued last month after completing a 15-month NEPA process. On the South Canal Drop 3 site in Colorado, a finding of ``no significant impact'' was just issued last month after a 15-month NEPA process.

Developers and irrigators need clarity and certainty so their project can be developed. Waiving NEPA will not provide clarity and certainty. The stopgap for development is not NEPA; it's a lack of a Reclamation process. There must be a clear process in place for the development of hydropower at Reclamation facilities.

I urge Reclamation to finalize the directives and standards as soon as possible, and it's my understanding the draft is already out to developers and irrigators for their view, and the final directives and standards will be completed by the end of this year.

It is unfortunate that this legislation contains this controversial waiver. Without the NEPA exemption, this legislation would have been on suspension, and I do oppose the legislation and ask my colleagues to join me in opposition to this very sad portion of waiver of NEPA.


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