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On August 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overruled several orders by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and held that the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) did not waive its authority to issue water quality certifications for several hydroelectric projects. Before the court in SWRCB v. FERC, No. 20-72432, were several orders on appeal from FERC where the Commission found that SWRCB had participated in a coordinated “withdrawal-and-resubmission” scheme to evade the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 one-year statutory time limit on a state’s review of a certification application.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Finds No Waiver of State Water Board Authority

On April 15, 2022, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an Equity Action Plan (EAP) that introduces a two-year overhaul to review its policies to better promote equity and remove barriers to environmental justice communities.  In particular, for hydropower projects, the EAP will focus on:  (1) building and staffing its new Office of Public Participation, (2) strengthening Tribal government consultation and engagement policies and processes, (3) reviewing key regulations within the hydropower project licensing process, and (4) implementing equity readiness for staff to understand the EAP mission.
Continue Reading FERC Equity Action Plan and Hydropower Licensing

On November 5th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the more than $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF).  The Senate had already approved the bill back in August, and it now heads to the President’s desk for signature.  The BIF represents a core piece of President Biden’s agenda and provides significant funding for infrastructure improvements in energy and water, including over $900M in waterpower incentives for new and existing hydropower, pumped storage, and marine energy.  Additional spending is provided for dam safety and removal.
Continue Reading Infrastructure Bill Provides Opportunities for Hydroelectric Industry

In 2019, the D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC  held that the plain language of Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 establishes a bright-line maximum period of one year for States to act on a request for water quality certification and that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) was arbitrary and capricious when it failed to enforce the statutory time-limit.  Since the Hoopa Valley Tribe ruling, the Commission has repeatedly held that a State waives its authority under Section 401 when it has sought to extend the one year review period by requesting or directing the applicant to withdraw and resubmit its application to afford the state reviewing agency more time.  In several recent cases, however, the Commission has found that there may be instances where a withdrawal and resubmission of a water quality certification by the applicant does not result in a State’s waiver of Section 401 certification authority.
Continue Reading FERC’s Clean Water Action Section 401 Waiver Analysis Continues to Evolve

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

On February 20, 2020, FERC staff issued a letter to the licensee for the FERC-licensed Anderson Dam Project (“Project”), directing the licensee to immediately initiate a full drawdown of the Project’s reservoir by October 1, 2020. The Project is located south of San Francisco and serves as an important water supply resource, but has long been identified as vulnerable to flooding and seismic events that could result in the catastrophic spilling of floodwaters into Silicon Valley.  As such, the licensee has been operating the Project at a restricted reservoir level (as low as 58% of capacity in 2020) to mitigate flooding and seismic risks.
Continue Reading FERC Requires that Anderson Dam Drain Reservoir

On March 19, 2020, FERC granted Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (“PG&E”), licensee for the Kilarc-Cow Creek Hydroelectric, Project No. 606 (“Project”), request for a Declaratory Order finding that the California State Water Resources Control Board (“California Board”) waived its authority to issue a water quality certification under section 401 of the Clean Water Act.  FERC’s recent opinion continues its application of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Hoopa Valley Tribe (see December 11, 2019 edition of the WER), which held that section 401 provides one year as the absolute maximum for a state to act on a water quality certification application and rejected an extension of the statutory deadline via a coordinated withdrawal-and-resubmission scheme between an applicant and the state certifying agency.
Continue Reading Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Continues to Apply D.C. Circuit Ruling

On March 5, 2020, the United States Senate approved a motion to proceed on the American Energy Innovation Act (“AEIA”), S. 2657, after a cloture vote was called on the motion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in order to move the bill to the Senate floor. However, on March 9, 2020, at least two measures to limit debate on the bill itself were rejected—opening the door for numerous floor amendments, including legislative language to limit greenhouse gas emissions that is projected to be offered by Senate Democrats.

The AEIA is a compendium of energy-related statutory provisions which was released in an omnibus, bipartisan legislative package on February 27, 2020 by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.). Senators Murkowski and Manchin offered a substitute amendment featuring the full text of the AEIA (Amendment 1407) after the motion to proceed was voted-out affirmatively, and they are acting as floor managers for the bill.

Among other things, the bill focuses on advancements and development of energy storage and hydropower resources. In particular, as described in greater detail below, the bill directs FERC to initiate a rulemaking on cost recovery for energy storage assets and extends authorization for certain incentives to develop generation at non-powered or already-powered dams. The Committee held approximately 12 months of hearings on many of the proposed legislation’s components. If enacted, the bill would constitute the first major piece of national energy legislation since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, after a twelve-year hiatus in significant congressional activity.
Continue Reading Bipartisan American Energy Innovation Act Being Considered on Floor of U.S. Senate