you thought renewing your driver's license was a pain, try being a
dam owner. Every 30 to 50 years, privately owned dams must apply
for a new operating license from the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission (FERC), and the process is neither fast nor cheap. On
average, the process drags on for about five years, but it can take
up to two decades (HCN,
11/22/99: Figuring out FERC).
attempt to speed things up, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig reintroduced his
Hydroelectric Licensing Process Improvement Act on Jan. 22. Craig
claims that environmental regulatory agencies' sluggishness in
preparing reviews hampers the current relicensing process. His bill
would limit each dam's environmental review period to one year, and
require FERC to balance the dams' economic viability with
"(Environmentalists) get de facto stoppage if
they can force the price up high enough on relicensing," says Craig
spokesman Mike Tracy. With the energy crunch, "We can't afford to
do that in the Pacific Northwest right now," he
But critics of Craig's bill say the lengthy
process gives government agencies the time they need to conduct
adequate environmental assesments. These can lead to measures such
as fish ladders, regulated water flows, and habitat improvements,
all of which help fish populations survive in dammed rivers.
Critics also say the delays are often caused by dam operators who
don't complete applications on time.
of the Hydropower Reform Coalition, an environmental group, says
that the issue is especially critical because over 450 dams are due
for relicensing in the next decade. "If we don't get it right from
an environmental standpoint now, I'm going to have to wait till my
grandchildren are around to try again."