H.R. 3043, Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017
On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, the House will consider H.R. 3043, the Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017, under a structured rule. H.R. 3043 was introduced on June 23, 2017, by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, in addition to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Committee on Energy and Commerce ordered the bill reported by voice vote on June 28, 2017.
H.R. 3043 modernizes the regulatory permitting process and encourages the expansion of hydropower generation by improving administrative efficiency, accountability, and transparency; promotes new hydropower infrastructure; requires balanced and timely decision making; and reduces duplicative oversight.
Specifically, the legislation establishes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency for all hydropower authorizations, approvals, and requirements mandated by federal law. The bill modifies the definition of renewable energy to include hydropower, extends the timeframe for a preliminary permit from 3 to 4 years, and extends the time limit for construction “for not more than 8 additional years.”
The legislation also establishes procedures for trial-type hearings conducted by an Administrative Law Judge to resolve disputes relating to conditions and fishway prescriptions under Part I of the Federal Power Act. In addition, the legislation facilitates the timely and efficient completion of license proceedings by minimizing duplication of studies and establishing a program to compile a comprehensive collection of studies and data on a regional or basin-wide scale.
In 2015, hydropower accounted for about 6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and 46 percent of electricity generation from renewables. Less than 3 percent of the dams in the U.S.—approximately 2,200 dams— produce electricity. A recent report by the Department of Energy (DOE) found that U.S. hydropower production could grow by almost 50 percent from current levels by 2050 from a combination of upgrading existing hydropower facilities, adding generation capacity to existing non-powered dams and canals, and developing new hydropower facilities.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) exercises jurisdiction over non-Federal hydropower projects. FERC is authorized under Part I of the Federal Power Act (FPA) to review applications for the construction of hydropower projects and oversee their operation and safety. FERC regulates over 1,600 non-Federal hydropower projects at over 2,500 dams, which together represents about 56 gigawatts of hydropower capacity, more than half of all the hydropower capacity in the United States.
FERC is authorized to issue licenses for projects within its jurisdiction, and exemptions for projects that would be located at existing dams or within conduits that meet specific qualifying criteria. Licenses are generally issued for terms of between 30 and 50 years, and are renewable. Exemptions are perpetual, and thus do not need to be reviewed. According to FERC, Commission staff currently has a full workload processing original license, relicense, and exemption applications, as well as its compliance and dam safety work. The relicensing workload, in particular, has started to increase and will continue to remain high well into the 2030s. Between FY 2017 and FY 2030, about 480 older projects, which represent approximately 45 percent of FERC licensed projects, will begin the relicensing process. Currently, FERC is processing about 4,999 licensing and exemption-related filings per year, which will substantially increase commensurate with the increased relicensing workload. FERC lacks authority to improve the hydropower licensing process by helping to resolve disputes among agencies and enforce scheduling deadlines.
- Rep. Pocan (D-WI) – This amendment requires the U.S. Department of Interior to consider the threat of invasive species when it makes decisions on hydropower licensing.
- Rep. Babin (R-TX) – This amendment allows FERC to examine the licenses of any project located in an area that was declared by the President to be a disaster area in 2017.
- Rep. Jenkins (R-WV) – This amendment ensures that when hydro projects have an existing Memorandum of Understanding for non-federal hydropower with FERC that all relevant federal agencies are authorized to fully study and review the potential expansion of non-federal hydropower, including a review of seasonal pool levels and slowing flood releases. \
- Rep. Rush (D-IL) – This amendment adds a new section to the Federal Power Act to improve the hydropower licensing process. It directs the Commission and the Federal resource agencies to convene a negotiated rulemaking within 90 days of enactment with state and local government representatives, Indian tribes, and stakeholders to develop a process that will coordinate all necessary Federal authorizations and enable the Commission to make a final decision on a license not later than 3 years of receiving a completed license application.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates enacting H.R. 3043 would not affect direct spending or revenues.
For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 2-1374.
 See House Report 115-377 at 9.
 Id. at 9-10.
 Id. at 10.