WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives passed U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act by a 416-7 vote on Wednesday, streamlining the regulatory process for small hydropower development projects on existing Bureau of Reclamation conduits.
These human-made sites are ditches, pipes and canals that have been inventoried by the Bureau of Reclamation as suitable for hydropower purposes. However, the sites still need developers to come in and install generators to take advantage of the moving water to develop hydropower.
Because of regulatory uncertainty, developers have not moved to take on these projects, Tipton’s office said. The bill aims to give the Bureau of Reclamation the statutory authority that would clear red tape and entice developers to the projects – creating new rural jobs, producing green energy, modernizing infrastructure and supplying the federal government with additional revenues, according to Tipton’s office.
The bill eliminates additional environmental analysis for these sites, which already have been reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Within those constraints, we don’t need to do another environmental study,” Tipton said in an interview in his office.
Of the 373 Bureau of Reclamation conduit sites identified across the country that could be developed for hydropower, 28 are in Colorado. They are in Uncompahgre, Paonia, Smith Fork, Colbran and Dolores, and could potentially produce more than 100 millionkilowatt-hours annually.
“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,” Tipton said on the House floor.
A similar bill sponsored by Tipton passed the House in 2012, with a vote of 265-154. It only received a Senate hearing during the 112th Congress.
Tipton reintroduced the legislation in this Congress, the 113th.
House Democrats voiced similar objections during both votes. In 2012 and 2013, U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., tried and failed to include an amendment that would have forced additional NEPA reviews for the projects.
The bill originally called for a NEPA waiver, meaning that the projects would not have to undergo additional environmental-impact analysis.
“This is a good bill with one bad provision in it,” Napolitano said of the NEPA waiver on the House floor on Wednesday.
But that one provision, Tipton said, is the whole reason for the bill – to remove duplicative analysis and reduce administrative costs.
“Effectively the Napolitano amendment would have made the bill irrelevant,” Tipton said after the vote.
As a compromise to Napolitano and environmental groups, Tipton offered an amendment Wednesday to instead codify the application of the Bureau of Reclamation’s categorical exclusion process, therefore removing the NEPA waiver from the bill.
In the end, the categorical exclusion process is functionally the same as waiving the NEPA requirements, according to Tipton’s office.
In March, Deputy Commissioner of Operations at the Bureau of Reclamation Lowell Pimley testified that the Bureau supported the bill, but not the NEPA waiver.
The Bureau had not had a chance to look at the exact language passed Wednesday, a spokesman said.
The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 23.
Another hydropower bill – this one co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver –passed the House in February by a 422-0 vote.
Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at email@example.com.