Energy Regulation:

Hydropower Impacts on Fish Should Be Adequately Considered

RCED-86-99: Published: May 20, 1986. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the adequacy of the 30-day period that agencies are given to request a hearing after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues an order authorizing the construction and operation of a hydroelectric project; and (2) the FERC role in determining whether fish protection measures are working properly.

GAO found that: (1) federal and state fish and wildlife officials often did not receive FERC orders until 2 weeks after issuance; (2) when these delays occurred, officials selectively responded to the projects with the largest impacts and interrupted their operations to prepare timely requests for hearings; (3) about one-third of the 30-day period is used for printing, distribution, and mailing processes; and (4) although the Federal Power Act (FPA) allows FERC 30 days to respond to the construction of a hydroelectric project, FERC could increase available response time by reducing processing and mailing time. GAO also found that: (1) FERC inspectors do not have the expertise to determine how well fish protection measures are working; and (2) although FERC relies on state agencies to perform this function, but does not have formal working agreements with state agencies, and it is difficult to determine the extent to which fish protection measures are working.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FERC agreed with the aim of this recommendation, but explained to GAO satisfaction why specific suggestions were not feasible. Over the past 2 years, FERC has diligently explored alternative ways of allowing agencies in the Northwest more time to comment on FERC orders, but with limited success. FERC has taken some steps that may alleviate the problem.

    Recommendation: To ensure that federal and state fish and wildlife agencies in the Northwest have sufficient time to review and respond to FERC orders on hydroelectric projects, the Chairman, FERC, should have the Director, Office of Hydropower Licensing, implement alternatives which would allow interested parties more time within the 30-day period. Such alternatives might include: (1) expediting the processing and mailing of orders impacting the Northwest; (2) accepting a rehearing request if postmarked within 30 days of issuance; and (3) designating its Portland, Oregon office as the official receiving point for such requests.

    Agency Affected: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FERC: (1) solicited the participation of all pertinent federal and state agencies in its inspection program; (2) requested the agencies to advise FERC regional offices of any fish and wildlife concerns so they can be addressed during inspections; and (3) established a telephone hotline in each regional office to facilitate liaison and contacts with agencies concerning fish and wildlife concerns.

    Recommendation: To fulfill its responsibilities under FPA for protecting fish, the Chairman, FERC, should have the Director, Office of Hydropower Licensing, enter into written working agreements with fish and wildlife agencies in those states with significant fish populations potentially impacted by hydroelectric dams. These agreements should specify: (1) to what extent FERC will rely on the agencies to ensure that fish protection measures are working properly; and (2) how FERC and the agencies will coordinate their respective activities, including inspections and sharing reports, analyses, and other pertinent data.

    Agency Affected: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


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