At the February 15, 2024, FERC open meeting and in four orders issued the same day, FERC established a new policy governing its issuance of preliminary permits under section 4(f) of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”), pursuant to which it will not issue preliminary permits for projects located on Tribal lands if the Tribe on whose land the project is proposed to be located opposes the permit. FERC explained that this policy change is based on the agency’s commitment to ensuring that Tribal concerns and interests are considered whenever FERC’s actions or decisions have the potential to adversely affect Tribes or Tribal trust resources. To avoid future permit denials, FERC emphasized that potential applicants should fully inform Tribes about proposed projects on their lands before filing the permit application.Continue Reading FERC Establishes New Policy to Reject Hydropower Preliminary Permit Applications Based on Tribal Opposition to Projects Located on Their Tribal Lands

On April 21, 2023, the President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All.” The new Executive Order provides that “each [federal] agency should make achieving environmental justice part of its mission.” To that end, it provides that agencies shall:Continue Reading Biden Issues Executive Order Increasing Agency Requirements on Environmental Justice

On February 8, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released draft guidance (Draft Guidance) on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Act) (known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) Section 247 incentive, one of the key hydroelectric provisions  offered by the legislative package. The Act, which President Biden signed in November 2021, provides $553.6 million in total funding to the Section 247 program for “capital improvement” projects that maintain and enhance existing hydroelectric facilities to ensure generators continue to provide clean electricity, while integrating renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, improving dam safety, and reducing environmental impacts. The Draft Guidance focuses on the Section 247 application process and how DOE will rate and select incentive recipients.  DOE will accept comments on the Draft Guidance until February 28th, which provides hydropower licensees an opportunity to help shape the final guidance, and alert DOE to any potential obstacles that could prevent licensees from successfully participating in the Section 247 program.Continue Reading DOE Releases Awaited Draft Guidance for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Hydropower Incentive

On October 6, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Houston, Texas issued an opinion in San Jacinto River Authority v. Gonzalez, et al., a case involving claims by 85 residents against the San Jacinto River Authority (“Authority”), the governmental entity that maintains Lake Conroe and the Lake Conroe Dam, for releasing water from Lake Conroe and allegedly flooding their homes. The court found that the residents failed to prove causation because residents’ homes would have flooded even if the Authority had not released any water.Continue Reading Texas Court Finds Lack of Causation in Takings Case Arising from Spills at Texas Dam During Hurricane Harvey

On October 21, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) announced three new funding opportunities to support research and development projects for hydropower infrastructure in the United States.  The funding totals $28 million and is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s efforts to advance hydropower as a clean energy source.  DOE explains that the funding will support the expansion of: (1) “low-impact hydropower,” such as retrofits for dams that do not currently produce power and existing pumped storage hydropower facilities, (2) the development of new pumped storage hydropower facilities, and (3) engagement with “key voices” on issues including fleet modernization, sustainability, and environmental impacts.Continue Reading DOE Announces $28 Million Funding to Support Hydroelectric Programs

On December 20, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) in Waterkeepers Chesapeake, et al. v. FERC vacated a FERC order approving the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam because FERC did not have the authority to issue the license under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”).  Specifically, the court found that FERC may only issue a license if the state issues a water quality certification for the dam or waives its right to do so. Here, the court emphasized that when the Maryland Department of Environment (“Department”) rescinded its water quality certification for the project subject to a settlement agreement, the recission did not constitute a waiver, and thus FERC did not have the authority to issue the dam’s new license under the act. Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Vacates FERC Order Approving the Conowingo Dam’s Federal License Renewal

On December 30, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (“9th Circuit”) affirmed a lower court’s denial of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe’s (“Tribe”) motion to remand to state court and its dismissal of the Tribe’s action against the City of Seattle (“City”) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The case concerns Gorge Dam, which is located on the Skagit River in Washington and is one of three dams that make up the City’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project (“Skagit River Project” or “Project”).Continue Reading U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit Affirms Lower Court’s Dismissal of Tribe’s Case Against City of Seattle

In December 2022, several federal agencies announced awards and recommendations for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding. The BIL represents a core piece of President Biden’s agenda and provides significant funding for infrastructure improvements in energy and water, including over $900 million in waterpower incentives for new and existing hydropower, pumped storage, and marine energy. Funding is also provided to incentivize research, development, demonstration, and commercial application (R&D) efforts in the water power industry for technologies that improve capacity, efficiency, resilience, security, reliability, affordability, and environmental impact.Continue Reading Funding Begins for Hydropower Research and Development and Fish Passage