New bill could remove NEPA compliance from some small hydro projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. 3/7/12 (PennWell) -- The U.S. House will vote today on a bill that would give developers of small hydroelectric projects that use Bureau of Reclamation canals and ditches the ability to bypass current environmental reviews.

House Resolution 2842, cited as the "Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011" -- introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and five bipartisan co-sponsors -- would essentially remove application of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) from hydropower projects that have a capacity of 1.5 MW or less.

According to proponents of the bill, certain types of hydropower projects should be exempted from NEPA compliance because Reclamation's infrastructure already has enough environmental checks in place. And because the projects would use existing Reclamation conduits, no new land would be disturbed.

Instead of NEPA, Reclamation's Power Resources Office would be the "lead office of small conduit hydropower policy and procedure-setting activities conducted," as per the bill submitted to the House yesterday.

The bill also stipulates that it will not obligate the Western Area Power Administration, Bonneville Power Administration, or Southwestern Power Administration to purchase or market any of the power produced by the facilities covered.

Likewise, the costs associated with the production and delivery of such power will not be assigned to project purposes for inclusion in project rates.

Tipton introduced the bill to the House Water and Power Subommittee in September 2011.

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