Yesterday, the House passed with bipartisan support Rep. Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) legislation to create rural jobs by expanding the production of clean renewable hydropower. The bill passed the House 416-7 this year, a significant increase in bipartisan support from the 2012 vote of 265-154.
By eliminating duplicative environmental analysis on existing man-made Bureau of Reclamation conduits (pipes, ditches, and canals) that have received a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), H.R. 678 streamlines the regulatory process and reduces administrative costs for the installation of small hydropower development projects within those conduits. In doing so, the bill encourages increased small hydropower development, which will create new rural jobs in Colorado, add clean, affordable electricity to the grid to power homes and communities, modernize infrastructure, and supply the federal government with additional revenues.
“H.R. 678 is a commonsense piece of legislation to foster clean renewable energy development, create jobs in rural America, and do so without taxpayer cost while returning revenues to the Treasury, and by all measures, should be considered low-hanging fruit for congressional action,” Tipton said. “There has been a lot of discussion on both sides of the aisle about the need to pursue an all-of-the-above domestic energy strategy, and hydropower, as the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source, should be at the forefront of any comprehensive national energy policy.”
“Every day, water flows thousands of miles through canals, pipes, and ditches across the country, and every day we miss valuable opportunities to utilize this resource’s full potential,” said Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) an original co-sponsor of H.R. 678. “The greatest barrier to unleashing the next generation of hydropower is not technological; it is regulatory. For that reason, Congressman Tipton and I have been working to remove the obstacles the keep us from expanding one of the most reliable tools in our energy toolbox. ”
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reported that H.R. 678 has no cost to taxpayers, and returns revenues to the treasury. The Interior Department has identified at least 28 Bureau of Reclamation canal sites in Colorado, and 373 nationwide, that could be developed for hydropower purposes.
Tipton amended H.R. 678 on the House floor to address concerns expressed by some of his Democrat colleagues, and at the request of the broad range of irrigation districts, water conservation and conservancy districts, and public utilities most directly impacted by the bill. This amendment removes the NEPA waiver in the bill and instead codifies the application of the Bureau of Reclamation’s categorical exclusion process under the National Environmental Policy Act for small hydropower projects covered by the bill.
This alternative provision would still ensure the streamlining of the approval process for clean renewable energy and help provide certainty for investors and job creators, while providing flexibility to the Bureau to adjust to changing circumstances moving forward.
“By advancing these projects under the Bureau’s categorical exclusion process, we ensure that all of the elements in that process are retained, including agency discretion for examining extraordinary circumstances. In addition, the amendment specifically mentions codifying the categorical exclusion process for small conduit hydropower,” said Tipton.
This approach is supported by Trout Unlimited which in its March 19, 2013 letter states that, “Congress could direct BOR to create a categorical exclusion for small conduit hydropower.” That’s exactly what this amendment does.
“The use of a categorical exclusion for small conduit hydropower development can mean the difference between private investment in a public good with a multitude of benefits, and unreasonable financial costs and lengthy delays that lead to untapped potential, Tipton said. “My hope is that this amendment, which is broadly supported by the diverse range of groups invested in the bill who are committed to ensuring continued environmental protection, will assuage any reservations about this effort to promote clean renewable energy and allow us to move forward united in our support.”