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Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COSTA. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the ranking member, Congresswoman Napolitano, for her efforts on this legislation, Chairman Doc Hastings, as well as the chair of the subcommittee, Tom McClintock, and the author of this measure, Congressman Tipton, for trying to bring folks together.

Mr. Chairman, people from every walk of life are looking to Congress today to see if we can come together to deal with any of our problems, whether they be big, small, or in between. I rise today to support legislation, I think, that does that. This isn't the biggest legislation we'll deal with this year, nor is it the smallest; but it's something that will help America's energy policy.

Our bipartisan bill would amend the Reclamation Act, as has been stated, of 1939, to create a permanent process for how local irrigation districts and water agencies develop this very valuable, renewable, carbon-free energy at our reclamation facilities. And as we're putting together an energy policy that uses all-of-the-above, this becomes an important part.

H.R. 678, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, is a bipartisan bill that puts existing resources and knowledge we already have to expand one of the most important tools in our Nation's energy toolbox. Let me repeat that: one of the most important tools in our Nation's energy toolbox.

Hydropower is the single largest source of clean, sustainable energy and has been powering our country for over 100 years throughout the land. When most people think about hydropower, of course, they think about the big projects, Hoover Dam and other modern engineering marvels.

However, the beauty of this hydropower legislation is it can also be used on much smaller scaled, reliable projects in which we already have the infrastructure in place. Every day, water flows thousands of miles through canals, pipes and ditches across this country. I know--I happen to represent one of those places, the great San Joaquin Valley, in which we have a vast network of dams and reservoirs and canals that provide that water for those who most need it, our cities and our farms.

We have an old saying: where water flows, food grows. Every day we miss valuable opportunities to utilize this resource's full potential. This bill changes that.

This water could easily be harnessed to provide low-cost, renewable energy to American families and help add to the increment of energy that we need in this country.

Currently, small conduit hydropower is largely untapped and underutilized; and it's also, obviously, a clean-energy opportunity. The greatest barrier to unleashing the next generation of hydropower is not technological, because we have made great progress on the technological side. Unfortunately, it's regulatory.

Currently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, otherwise known as FERC, maintains jurisdiction over small projects like those that I am talking about.

Serving on the Natural Resources Committee, I've heard from folks across the country say that these regulations are too costly and too difficult to navigate. Obtaining an exception from FERC's permitting rules can take up to 6 months and cost nearly $50,000 for a local water district to pursue. That's unnecessary, and it's also a waste of valuable resources.

Our bipartisan bill, again, would amend the Reclamation Act of 1939 to create a permanent process for how local irrigation districts and water agencies develop this very valuable, renewable, carbon-free resource for reclamation facilities.

By streamlining the process, the irrigation districts would be empowered to develop small conduit hydropower at no cost to the taxpayers. These projects typically are 5 megawatts and less.

Harnessing the power of water already flowing through reclamation facilities would stimulate rural economies, reduce pumping costs for farmers who face those pumping costs every year.

I am proud to stand with my colleagues who are supporting this legislation. I want to thank Congressman Tipton for this effort, because it helps us take advantage of existing facilities that are already in place to provide additional resource of power where we need it.

If we want to strengthen our energy portfolio, let's start with the low-hanging fruit. This is low-hanging fruit.

Let me just give you some numbers. In California there are 20 small hydro projects, should this legislation become law, that would be available to this process. Let me underline that: 20 projects in California that would qualify.

In the Nation, the Bureau of Reclamation has determined that there are 373 projects throughout the country that potentially would qualify should this legislation become law.

The bill does just that. I urge your support for H.R. 678.


Mr. COSTA. Madam Chair, the legislative process is a two way street. It's about listening and incorporating the concerns of our colleagues to improve a bill. This amendment does just that.

Environmental review is important, but it needs to be an appropriate level of review for the project involved. On these types of projects, there isn't much chance of damage, so there shouldn't be much cost involved for review.

Reclamation recognizes this and has made great strides in easing the way for small hydro development on the agency's projects. However, potential legal conflicts have prevented them from fully implementing this process.

This amendment would bridge the legal gap and clarify questions that have kept the Bureau from moving forward. Specifically, the amendment would codify the steps Reclamation is already taking to ease the way for responsible small conduit hydropower development while also resolving potential litigation concerns.

This is a commonsense amendment that has been endorsed by American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association, and the National Hydropower Association.

I urge you to support this amendment and support the underlying bill.


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