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Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCLINTOCK. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Chairman, the so-called streamlining that the Bureau has pledged to do and has done has produced no new projects for reasons that were made very clear to our Subcommittee on Water and Power by numerous witnesses. NEPA is at the heart of the problem. As the chairman said, the Bureau of Reclamation operates 47,000 miles of pipelines and canals that have already undergone extensive environmental review. By installing small generators in the existing pipelines, we could add the equivalent generating capacity of major hydroelectric dams, meaning millions of dollars of new revenue to the government, millions of watts of new, clean, cheap electricity, and all the jobs these projects would produce.

The gentlelady has said that she supports the objective and is willing to do everything that she can to help except by getting government out of the way. The Federal bureaucracy has made it cost prohibitive for people to install these small generators in these existing canals and pipelines. Rather, they force them to conduct crushingly expensive environmental reviews, navigate time-consuming bureaucratic mazes, pay exorbitant administrative fees, and risk the uncertainties of endless internal review and external litigation. These bureaucratic obstacles often cost more than the projects themselves and turn sensible, economic electricity projects into cost-prohibitive farces.

As proposed to be amended, this bill requires the Bureau to categorically exclude the installation of these small, hydroelectric generators in existing facilities that have already undergone environmental review. It designates the central office within the Bureau to provide uniform guidance on processing applications. It establishes a sensible and streamlined process to determine development rights. And it ensures that installation of hydrogenerators will not disrupt existing water operations.

Mr. Chairman, think about the implications just to farming as one example. Some irrigation districts are forced to use diesel generators to pump water to their fields. You put hydroelectric generators in existing canals and pipes, and they become virtually self-sustaining, while reducing reliance on other sources of electricity that do produce air emissions.

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. Even FERC, a bastion of regulatory excess, agrees that these studies are unnecessary when conducted on similar non-Federal facilities.

I believe this bill is a model for the future. I hope that similar regulatory reforms will soon be extended to other Federal and non-Federal facilities.


Mr. McCLINTOCK. Madam Chairman, this amendment strikes the NEPA exclusion for small hydroelectric projects. That's the principal point of the bill.

As the Subcommittee on Water and Power has repeatedly been told, it is precisely this process that has doubled the cost of small hydro projects simply making them cost prohibitive. This is akin to having a full environmental review done when you build your home and then having to do it all over again when you want to install a microwave in your kitchen.

One witness testified that installing 15 very small hydropower units on a nearby Bureau of Reclamation canal system would cost over $450,000, or $30,000 per unit, for additional NEPA reviews that would ultimately conclude that there is no environmental impact.

That means the paperwork costs would be greater than the actual capital cost of the hydropower units. No one in his right mind would invest in a project with this kind of requirement. It simply makes no sense, and that's the primary reason conduit hydropower development is not happening.

It is true that the Bureau of Reclamation instituted a new NEPA Categorical Exclusion for small hydroelectric projects back in September of 2012, but 6 months later, this new policy has resulted in precisely zero new projects moving forward. Even if projects were moving forward today, this is only an administrative change and could be changed back at any time.

In addition, an expert witness who happens to be a litigator testified to our subcommittee that the current administrative process is full of legal holes that could be exploited by those wanting to stop these projects. Investors need certainty, and that requires a statutory and not an administrative fix.

I appreciate and support the gentlelady's effort to allow the Bureau to consider units with 15 megawatts, but I would remind her that zero projects times 15 megawatts still equals zero electricity. Indeed, there are practically no projects in this range to begin with, which makes the amendment somewhat disingenuous. Even if there were, if the current regulatory scheme isn't allowing 5-megawatt units, it certainly won't allow 15-megawatt units. That's the problem.

Mr. Tipton's bill provides an automatic exclusion from this duplicative and destructive NEPA requirement. The gentlelady's amendment takes it back out again. That's not constructive and it's not helpful.

To assure us that one supports small hydropower but opposes the automatic exclusion in Mr. Tipton's bill reminds me of Leo Tolstoy's observation when he said:

I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and all the while, I assure him and anyone who will listen that I am sympathetic for his plight and I am willing to do everything I can to help--except by getting off his back.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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