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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.

March 6, 2012.

Dear Representative: The undersigned organizations, on behalf of our millions of members and supporters are writing to express our opposition to the provision in Section 2 of H.R. 2842 that waives the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with respect to small conduit hydropower projects at Bureau of Reclamation facilities.

While we support the legislation's intent to encourage the responsible development of renewable energy projects, waiving NEPA reviews for Bureau of Reclamation projects is unnecessary and unacceptable. The National Environmental Policy Act is not a roadblock to the successful approval of conduit hydropower projects at Bureau facilities. We believe that this backward step will not accelerate hydropower development. Rather, our experience has shown us that attempts to shortcut or sidestep environmental review typically result in delayed projects.

Successfully advancing the development of new energy resources, like conduit hydropower, requires us to do better than we have done with other forms of energy and other Bureau of Reclamation projects. While we do not oppose the development of conduit hydropower, it must be done responsibly and under all of the appropriate reviews necessary to make sure that such development is consistent with the public interest; a guarantee that NEPA provides.

Therefore we respectfully request that you oppose H.R. 2842 unless the language requiring a NEPA waiver is struck from the bill.


American Rivers,
Center for Biological Diversity,
Defenders of Wildlife,
Grand Canyon Trust,
Natural Resources Defense Council,

The Wilderness Society.


Washington, DC, March 5, 2012.
Hon. Scott Tipton:
U.S. House of Representatives,
Washington, DC.

Dear Representative Tipton: The National Hydropower Association writes to express our appreciation for your work to support development of the nation's conduit power potential with your bipartisan bill, H.R. 2842, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011.

NHA believes there is tremendous untapped, renewable hydropower potential in existing man-made structures such as irrigation canals and other water conveyances, particularly on the federal system. As such, the Association supports policies encouraging these low-impact developments, while also ensuring appropriate project reviews.

NHA supports H.R. 2842, while also recommending a minor amendment to Section 2 of the bill to align the Bureau's treatment of these projects to that which they currently receive, and have received since the 1980s, at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Specifically, NHA believes a provision that would require the Bureau to institute a NEPA categorical exclusion for small conduit projects provides appropriate oversight of these facilities, as longstanding practice and experience at FERC has shown.

As always, NHA stands ready to engage and work with policymakers and all stakeholders on hydropower legislation and policies. And again, we commend you for your work on this issue.


Linda Church Ciocci,
Executive Director.


March 6, 2012.

Dear Representative: On behalf of American Rivers' thousands of members nationwide, I am writing to express our opposition to the provision in Section 2 of H.R. 2842 that waives the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with respect to small conduit hydropower projects at Bureau of Reclamation facilities.

American Rivers supports the responsible development of conduit hydropower projects at Bureau facilities. We believe that there is significant untapped potential at these facilities for new hydropower generation. We believe that the Bureau of Reclamation should improve its process for small conduit hydropower permitting, modeling its process on that used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). We believe that the Bureau should, like FERC, consider a categorical exclusion for these types of projects in order to facilitate their construction.

Unfortunately, H.R. 2842 creates a blanket waiver of NEPA for small conduit hydropower projects at Bureau facilities. We hope that in the course of House consideration of the bill, the NEPA waiver language can be amended. Pending that, American Rivers reluctantly opposes H.R. 2842 in its current form.

Jim Bradley,

Senior Director of Government Relations,
American Rivers.


Mrs. NAPOLITANO. Mr. Chairman, I couldn't agree with Mr. Gosar more on some of his presentation that the bureau would be able to expedite some of these projects, and they are working on that categorical exemption determination to be able to understand how they can expedite some of these projects.

NEPA is not some radical piece of legislation. It was overwhelmingly approved by Congress more than four decades ago and signed into law by President Nixon.

It is not an obstacle. It's a tool to be used to facilitate coordination, cooperation, and public input. It is not a barrier. It is a shield protecting our communities, yours and mine, from the unintended consequences that can occur when a big, clumsy Federal Government acts without thinking.

NEPA does not and cannot prevent projects from going forward. They just require the government to analyze alternatives and, most importantly, seek public comment. Evidence that NEPA does not stop projects is plain. Our majority cannot provide a single example where NEPA prevented one of these small projects, the hydroprojects from moving forward. Most applications are granted expeditiously and easily. It also provides the Bureau of Reclamation all the flexibility necessary to apply NEPA quickly and efficiently to the projects. There is no delay.

To oppose NEPA is to oppose public input. Again, it would then oppose public input. To oppose NEPA is to oppose thinking before we act.

This unnecessary and unwise blanket waiver of NEPA should be struck from this bill and then this bill could be passed unanimously and go on to approval in our other body.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mrs. NAPOLITANO. Mr. Chairman, this is a simple amendment striking out language in section 2, page 4, lines 12 15. It removes the exemption of the NEPA waiver for small conduits on Federal land.

The proponents of this measure again will argue that FERC regulations allow for categorical exemption for certain conduit hydropower projects that meet statutory and regulatory criteria and do not have the potential for significant environmental impacts. This is true.

First, treatment of conduits is not the same. It is not the same as what the legislation attempts where all environmental regards are completely waived. This bill, H.R. 2842, as amended, proposes to totally exempt all small hydro from the FERC exemption process. Reclamation already has the same authority as FERC to develop a process of complying with NEPA. Reclamation has already been in the process of investigating whether small hydropower developed in conduits or canals may be appropriately placed under categorical exemption.

As I stated before, the draft is already out. They are consulting with developers and irrigators to ensure that this bill is what they need. They have also granted specific categorical exemptions to three LOP projects, as mentioned in my opening statement. Low impact hydropower can be efficiently developed by utilizing existing environmental review provisions.

We have seen examples of projects that have not unduly delayed project development, and I again point to the three projects as stated before utilizing the yellow pea process. I have placed the letters from the National Hydropower Association and American Rivers and others to highlight the views of the hydropower industry and the leading conservation group on hydropower. Both are supportive of H.R. 2842 as long as it is modeled after the process used by FERC.

It would provide for proper oversight, a longstanding practice FERC has shown.

I urge my colleagues to vote positively ``yes'' on this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


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