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Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCLINTOCK. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I would say to the gentleman from Massachusetts that nothing in this measure has anything at all to do with

oil production. Quite the contrary, this bill reduces our reliance on fossil fuels by bringing hundreds of thousands of megawatts of new, clean hydroelectricity to the grid.

I don't understand the objection to this bill. This measure by Mr. Tipton does everything the environmental left says that it likes: At precisely no cost to taxpayers, it produces absolutely clean and renewable electricity in vast quantities, on projects that have already undergone environmental review, simply by installing small generators in existing pipelines and canals where there are no fish or no flora or no fowl of any kind.

This is the alpha and omega of Mr. Tipton's bill. Authorize these simple projects on existing Bureau of Reclamation facilities. That's it.

There are untold thousands of miles of pipelines and canals and aqueducts attached to these facilities that convey water by simple gravity. There is water in these existing facilities that is utterly devoid of any life whatsoever, and there is no conceivable environmental impact whatsoever. These existing pipelines, if equipped with simple hydroelectric generators, could generate electricity that would take several major multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dams across the West to produce.

In fact, our committee took testimony that, in Colorado alone, the hydroelectric facilities' small generators that would be encouraged by this bill could produce as much power as is currently produced by the entire Glen Canyon Dam. Now, multiply that throughout the United States, and you begin to realize what a huge impact this could have on new, clean, affordable energy for America.

Those hydroelectric generators are not going into these pipelines right now for one simple and utterly absurd reason: government regulations make it economically impossible to do so. Our subcommittee took testimony from farmers in water districts who were trying to install these generators; but instead of doing everything it can to assist them, this administration smothers them with endless regulatory delays, demands for wildly expensive environmental studies and exorbitant permitting fees.

According to testimony before the committee that the gentleman from Colorado cited, the net effect of these environmental regulations can more than double the cost of these projects, simply pricing them out of reach. In one case, a witness told us that a $20,000 small generator project would have required $50,000 in permitting costs, and so it doesn't move forward.

Congressman Tipton's bill, instead, welcomes these small hydroelectric generators by authorizing their placement in existing Bureau of Reclamation conduits. It invites existing operators and users to invest in these generators at no public cost. It establishes an office within the Bureau of Reclamation with the responsibility to assist projects, and it exempts them from paying for another costly, time-consuming, and pointless NEPA study when there is no conceivable environmental impact involved. These facilities already underwent the environmental process when they were built, when they were upgraded, or when their repayment contracts were renewed. It is simply a waste of time and money to put them through yet another review before these small generators can be installed.

I mean, think about the implications just to farming alone. Some irrigation districts are forced to use diesel generators to pump water to the fields. Put hydroelectric generators in existing canals and pipelines, and they become virtually self-sustaining while reducing their reliance on other sources of electricity that produce air emissions.

In addition, sales of canal-based electricity could generate local revenue for irrigators, which would help upgrade existing facilities and infrastructure, create jobs and relieve exhausted Federal taxpayers of these costs. The construction of these generators would mean new high-paying jobs for Americans.

It is truly mystifying that a nation plagued by prolonged economic stagnation, chronic unemployment, and increasingly scarce and expensive electricity would adopt a willful and deliberate policy obstructing the construction of these inexpensive and innocuous generators in already-existing facilities.

Mr. Chairman, there are fewer Americans working today than on the day that Barack Obama took office more than 3 long years ago. During that period, he has taken well over a trillion dollars from the earnings of hardworking American families to funnel to well-connected companies, claiming to create jobs. In the case of Solyndra, it penciled out to $450,000 per job, jobs that disappeared as soon as the government money ran out.


Mr. McCLINTOCK. I thank the gentleman.

Yet here, with this measure, at no cost to these hardworking families, at no cost to the environment, simply by getting absurdly and utterly duplicative government regulations out of the way, we could add tens of thousands of megawatts of clean and cheap electricity to our domestic energy supply, produce permanent jobs, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and lower the utility bills of American families.

Our Nation desperately needs clean, affordable, and abundant electricity; and it desperately needs permanent jobs. To get them, it most of all needs common sense restored to its government. The progress the American people have made in doing that, as well as the unfinished business remaining before them, will be very precisely measured by the roll call on this bill.


Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Chairman, this amendment, as the gentlelady has pointed out, strikes the NEPA exemption for small hydroelectric projects. Perhaps she hasn't been listening to the debate for the last hour. The NEPA exemption is the entire point of the bill.


As our subcommittee heard earlier this year, it's precisely this duplicative, costly, time-consuming, and entirely unnecessary process that has more than doubled the cost to small hydro projects which simply makes them cost-prohibitive. They don't apply for permits because they know they don't pencil out once all of the studies are factored into their costs. The Bureau of Reclamation doesn't deny permits; it simply demands such costly environmental studies as to make these projects cost-prohibitive. The bill authorizes these projects so they don't have to go through the costly, time-consuming, and pointless environmental studies.

The gentlelady, several times, mentioned the fact that the Bureau of Reclamation was moving ahead with three permits in Colorado. So what's the problem? Well, let's look at those three permits. One of these wasn't conduit hydropower, one was specifically approved by Congress in the 1980s, and the third took a full year to get the permitting done on an existing canal outlet. Now, if that's what the gentlelady describes as success, I think she has just proven our point.

Let me ask her this: What is the point of requiring expensive and time-consuming environmental reviews when all you're doing is putting a small generator in an existing Bureau of Reclamation pipe that has already undergone extensive environmental reviews?

FERC already provides for the categorical exemption on non-Federal projects. The Bureau's own NEPA manual, updated a decade ago, clearly allows categorical exemptions for--and this is from their manual--``minor construction activities associated with authorized projects which merely augment or supplement or are enclosed within existing facilities.'' These small hydro generators precisely meet this requirement. The problem is the agency ignores its own guidelines. That is precisely why this bill is necessary.

Mr. Chairman, either placing generators in pipelines is environmentally damaging or it's not, and anybody with a lick of sense already knows the answer to that question, and I would expect them to be supporting the bill of the gentleman from Colorado.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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