Letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee

March 15, 2017

The Honorable Fred Upton
Energy and Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Bobby Rush
Ranking Member
Energy and Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515


Dear Chairman Upton and Ranking Member Rush:

We at Friends of the Eel River appreciate the opportunity to provide some perspective on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee hearing on “Modernizing Energy Infrastructure: Challenges and Opportunities to Expanding Hydropower Generation.”

Friends of the Eel River works to protect and restore Northwest California’s Eel River. We focus on the three imperiled species of salmon and steelhead which were abundant in our watershed a century ago, and which provided the essential foundation for healthy human and natural communities across our remote region. We are working to remove the two century-old, and increasingly unsafe, dams which prevent salmon and steelhead, as well as the Eel’s namesake Pacific lamprey, from reaching the headwaters of the Eel River, where cold water streams provide ideal spawning habitat.

In our own case, we are confident that nearly all of the parties interested in the fate of our Eel River dams are recognizing that the costs of maintaining the dams – let alone the ecological harms they do – is no longer justified by their small and diminishing power production they provide. We are actively engaged in helping to build a functional collaborative process to create win-win solutions for all affected stakeholders.

This effort has taught us not only how important such collaborative approaches are, but the extent to which they depend on the solid base of fair, reasonable protections for public trust resources like fisheries, clean water, and public recreation, as well as the fundamental recognition of the rights of Native American tribes to maintain cultures which depend on the health of these resources.

Proposals brought before this committee in previous Congresses would have the effect of reducing the already very limited ability of independent federal and state agencies to ensure that the FERC relicensing process effectively addresses public trust issues within those agencies’ expertise and jurisdiction. We note that despite the clear evidence in favor of removing some environmentally harmful dams which produce small amounts of hydropower, FERC has yet never failed to approve a dam owner’s relicensing request. If anything, it’s clear to us at FOER that the FERC relicensing process would be improved by requiring FERC to more fully address the vital issues which the independent agencies bring to the relicensing process.

In a similar vein, in order for stakeholders to make timely, well-informed and mutually agreeable decisions, it is vitally important that they have the information they need about the river and the project as soon as possible in the licensing process. FERC often denies study requests from agencies with independent authority, forcing stakeholders to either make decisions that are informed by outdated science or wait until the agency can exercise its own authority to demand the information. This leads to unnecessary delays and poor outcomes for the river and local communities. The public interest would be better served by requiring that all of the necessary information be provided early in the licensing process.

When we work together on hydropower licensing we can achieve license agreements that continue profitable hydropower generation, protect ecosystems and cultural values, and provide for public use and enjoyment of our natural resources. As the Committee drafts hydropower legislation, we urge you to consult with all of the relevant stakeholders, including states, tribes, federal agencies, recreation and conservation groups, and energy companies. Involving all stakeholders, not just power companies, is the only way that the Committee will be able to successfully develop meaningful improvements to the licensing process that protect the environment and ensure reliable energy production.


Scott Greacen
Executive Director