Opposing Bad Hydropower Legislation

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is working with a broad coalition in opposing proposed federal legislation that would gut important rules concerning hydropower regulation. 

Ennis Lake Dam between the Upper and Lower Madison River

The 25,000 sq. miles of SW and West-Central Montana’s Upper Missouri River Basin possess nearly a dozen dams, many of which significantly affect local water resources by controlling flow and in turn, affect upstream and downstream water quality, quantity, fisheries health, and water rights.

The proposed bill federalizes all authority over hydropower development in the country, centralizing that authority at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It overturns a century’s worth of checks and balances over the federal management of water resources, and more than 40 years’ worth of protections for natural resources impacted by hydropower dams.

This legislation, if enacted, would consolidate in FERC management of all aspects of federal land use relating to hydropower. FERC, widely recognized as not exercising its current authority in a judicious and timely manner, would be given additional responsibilities relating to natural resource management expertise now housed throughout the federal government. Furthermore, the bill removes State authority to ensure State water quality standards are met. This legislation would establish an unfunded mandate for State agencies to provide for the physical safety of small hydropower dams. This bill does not improve a process many take issue with; it is a discombobulated attempt to provide the hydropower industry with their preferred regulatory scheme and provide weaker oversight and management of hydroelectric dams.

In short, the proposed bills – S.1236 and the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Draft that would do essentially the same thing – remove all conditioning authority from federal agencies on hydropower projects for federal agencies (fish passage, ESA, etc.) as well as 401 Water Quality Certification and hand those responsibilities over to FERC.  It also provides FERC with the power to re-open previous licenses to weaken conditions.

These mandatory license conditions are the only teeth in the licensing process and handing these provisions over to FERC would make the licensing process essentially meaningless and we would be handing over 50 year licenses for our waterways with no protections of our natural resources.

Interested in learning more about this issue?

Click here to view an Analysis of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee’s Hydropower Reform Bill, including a section-by-section analysis of harmful provisions.

Click here to view the letter we’re sending opposing these revisions.


Hydropower relicensing is a wonky, painful and boring process that very few big green environmental groups and likely no watershed groups are likely to get involved with. Upper Missouri Waterkeeper exists for just this reason; to be a technical expert that can inform Montanans on river issues and take the necessary strong stances needed to defend our rivers, fisheries, and clean water economy!

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is your local advocate for clean, readily available water and healthy fisheries in Montana. Please consider becoming a member today and help us keep up the fight, defending Montana’s rivers!

Click here to Join Us!