At the June 18, 2020 and July 16, 2020 Commissioner meetings, FERC issued a combined five orders continuing its trend of finding that a state has waived its Clean Water Act (“CWA”) section 401 authority for failing to issue a water quality certification within one year from receiving the request for certification.  Since the D.C. Circuit’s 2019 ruling in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC (see December 11, 2019 edition of the WER), which held that the plain language of section 401 limited a state’s review to one year, the Commission has consistently found state waiver when the time period has been exceeded under a variety of circumstances.  Below is a summary of FERC’s recent orders finding that a state certifying authority waived its section 401 authority.
Continue Reading FERC Continues Trend Finding State Water Quality Certification Waiver

In the two months since the failures of the Edenville Dam and the downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) in central Michigan, there has been a flurry of correspondence between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) and the licensee, including a series of directives and the warning of potential enforcement actions from the Commission, as well as discussion of possible harm to protected species following the dam breaches.
Continue Reading Aftermath of the Michigan Dam Failures: Licensee Delays and Possible ESA Concerns

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) has proposed to revise its Part 12 dam safety regulations through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) released at its monthly public meeting on July 14, 2020.  There will be a 60-day public comment period once the proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register.  The proposed revisions contain three major changes to the existing FERC dam safety regulations:
Continue Reading FERC Proposes Overhaul of Dam Safety Regulations

On July 2, 2020, FERC staff issued an order granting an exemption from licensing to the City and County of Denver, Colorado, through its Board of Water Commissioners (“Denver Water”) for its Strontia Springs Hydroelectric Project (“Project”).  Prior to FERC issuing the exemption order, Denver Water held an original minor license for the Project, which is located on the South Platte River in Douglas and Jefferson counties, Colorado.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Federal Power Act “Exemption” in Lieu of Relicensing to Colorado Hydropower Project

Throughout June 2020, a number of legislative proposals poised to impact hydropower resources have been introduced in Congress.  On Monday, June 22, Democratic members of the House of Representatives released H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which aims to encourage investment in infrastructure and includes several provisions on hydropower and dam safety.  On Monday June 29, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) introduced the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act which includes updates to the licensing process for non-federal hydroelectric projects and promotes innovation of new generation technologies that would protect the environment and natural resources while providing additional reliability services to the nation’s electric grid.  Finally, on June 30, Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a Climate Crisis Action Plan, which includes provisions on hydropower and marine energy facilities.
Continue Reading Federal Hydropower Legislative Proposals Introduced on Capitol Hill

On Thursday, July 9, 2020 the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that a large swath of northeastern Oklahoma, including most of the city of Tulsa, remains part of the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation and, as a result, that the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute a major crime involving a tribal member within the reservation. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion for the Majority, confirming the durable principle of tribal sovereignty, despite significant efforts throughout history to dismantle tribal reservations and governments.  Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Alito and Kavanaugh joined, and in which Justice Thomas joined, except as to one footnote.  Some analyses have raised the possibility that this decision could have a significant impact on taxation and natural resources management in Indian Country throughout the United States, as discussed more fully below.  However, because the direct holding of the Court is quite narrow, the full impact of this decision remains to be seen. 
Continue Reading Supreme Court Determines that Area in Northeastern Oklahoma Constitutes a Reservation

On May 19, 2020, the Edenville dam on the Tittabawassee and Tobacco Rivers in central Michigan was breached during historic flooding.  The downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) was later overtopped by the increased flows from the Edenville breach.  Evacuation orders were issued for around 10,000 residents in the area and floodwaters from the dam failures encroached on downtown Midland, Michigan, and a nearby Dow Chemical complex.
Continue Reading Dam Fails at Michigan Project with Revoked FERC License

As the California Legislature prepares its 2021 budget and continues to address the impacts of COVID-19, the Subcommittee 2 on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation (Subcommittee) proposed language in a trailer bill related to the State Water Resources Control Board’s (Water Board) authority to issue water quality certifications under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) for federally licensed and permitted activities.  If enacted, the bill purportedly would authorize the Water Board to meet the one-year action requirement under CWA section 401 by issuing a water quality certification—even if California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements are not met.  Further, the bill seeks to authorize the Water Board to make any changes to conditions in the water quality certification at a later date after CEQA requirements are met.
Continue Reading Legislative Proposal in California Seeks to Avoid Waiver for Water Quality Certifications Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act

On April 27, 2020, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) released a Request for Information (RFI) to gather information and feedback from hydropower industry stakeholders on its Hydropower Program Research and Development (R&D) Strategy and Hydro and Water Innovation for a Resilient Electricity System (HydroWIRES) Research Roadmap.
Continue Reading The Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office Releases Request for Information on Hydropower Program