Don’t Be Fooled By Hydropower Industry Talking Points

Warning sign at the outlet for the Caribou 2 powerhouse, part of the Upper North Fork Feather River Project (FERC P-2105) | Thomas O'KeefeWarning sign at the outlet for the Caribou 2 powerhouse, part of the Upper North Fork Feather River Hydropower Project (FERC P-2105) | Thomas O’Keefe

Think hydropower is green? Think the hydro industry has your best interests in mind?

Think again.

If hydropower is not done right, it can be destructive for rivers and the fish and wildlife that depend on them. It damages natural habitat and prevents fish from reaching spawning grounds. It can dry up entire stretches of river. It’s the only renewable energy source that drives species toward extinction.

For decades, environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act have leveled the playing field between all of us and powerful energy companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Duke Energy, Exelon, and Southern Company.

But now the hydropower industry is trying to create a giant loophole for dam operators, so they are not required to protect fish, wildlife, or water quality on our rivers.

Now, as industry lobbyists push HR 8 to Members of Congress, they are using all kinds of misleading messages.

Here’s a guide to translating hydro industry talking points into reality:

What they say: The legislation “streamlines” the dam relicensing process

The truth: The legislation guts environmental protections and takes away the ability of states, tribes, local communities, and recreation and conservation interests to have a say in how dams are operated. By “streamlining” this dam relicensing process, the things you value get steamrolled.

What they say: Hydropower is “clean energy”

The truth: As they wave the clean energy banner, hydropower companies are trying to hide a dirty secret – that poorly operated hydropower dams cause major damage to fish and wildlife, clean water, and communities and businesses that depend on healthy rivers. If hydropower is so clean, then why are hydro companies lobbying Congress to get them out of complying with the Clean Water Act?

What they say: The legislation makes the approval process for non-federal hydropower more “efficient and collaborative” by requiring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to act as the lead agency in coordinating with other federal, state, and local government agencies and Indian tribes.

The truth: There is nothing collaborative about federalizing the states’ role in enforcing state law at dams.  There is nothing collaborative about using the power of the federal government to dictate what reviews and studies are necessary for Native American tribes to protect their sacred homelands. It may be efficient to take away states’ authorities to protect their citizens, but that doesn’t make it right. This is a massive expansion of federal authority and a trampling of states’ rights and the rights of Native American tribes.

What they say: The hydropower industry cares about the environment

The truth: Fish, wildlife, clean water, and anyone who enjoys fishing, paddling, and other river recreation will lose if this legislation becomes law. The legislation gives FERC — and thus effectively the power company — the power to limit scope of environmental review. In practice, this will limit the scope of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act to whatever FERC says it should be.  If this bill becomes law, the final say over whether fish passage should be considered at dams would not be determined by fisheries experts, it would be determined by FERC.  And, the final say over the protection of sacred Tribal lands would not be decided by the Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it would be determined by FERC.

In 1920, the Federal Power Act was designed to provide balance between power generation and all other uses of a river.  If this legislation passes, power company profits will go to the head of the line, ahead of every other user.  If you care about irrigation, Native American treaty rights, wildlife, recreational fishing, commercial fishing, whitewater boating, water quality, municipal water supply, fire safety, flood control, or any other purpose other than generating power, then you should oppose this legislation.

The hydropower industry is simply going too far with this extreme legislation. Don’t be fooled by their talking points. Learn more, then take action to protect our rivers.

11 Responses to “Don’t Be Fooled By Hydropower Industry Talking Points”

william kauffman

I agree with you. Here in East TN, TVA has a record number dams along the tributaries of the Tennessee river here in East TN. to the TN River’s entrance into the Ohio River at Paducah, KY. I don’t see much hope to remove the dams we have here.

Good luck..

Chris Russell

This is a bunch of B.S.!

You need to, first and foremost, consider your alternatives to Hydropower. If you think for a second that coal, natural gas or nuclear energy is “cleaner” then you are off your rocker. As for solar and wind, they simply are not reliable and cannot provide nearly enough energy to even put a dent in our usage.

Second of all, there are now higher numbers of returning fish than EVER recorded before. The Hydro industry spends millions of dollars every month to ensure that the fish don’t just survive but truly thrive.

Finally, we know that Hydro isn’t perfect but it’s the absolute best option when you look at the big picture and consider all your other options. It simply makes sense.


    Which rivers are you counting fish on? Canadian? I consider solar in the SW much better than more dams in The SW states.

    Jeff Wiedner

    First, it’s important to note that this legislation is NOT about supporting new hydropower. This legislation is about letting the power companies who own existing dams off the hook for protecting the environment and complying with the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act when they are trying to get a new license for an old dam.

    You are correct that hydropower isn’t coal, gas, or nuclear. But the hydropower industry is presenting us with a false choice here: either we have to roll back environmental protections that limit the harm that hydropower does to rivers, fish, wildlife, recreation, cultural resources, and other public values, or we’re somehow supporting increased fossil fuels. We don’t agree. Hydropower dams may not be coal, but that doesn’t mean that the companies that own those dams deserve a free pass on complying with laws that protect fish, wildlife, clean water, and outdoor recreation. We can’t help but notice that almost all of the industry’s touted spending on fish and wildlife protections only happens because dam owners have to comply with the same modern environmental laws that they’re trying to gut today. If they succeed in weakening those laws, hydropower will suddenly look a whole lot dirtier.

    And it’s important to note that many of the big companies who are leading members of the National Hydropower Association are companies that generate significant amounts of coal-fired electricity; these include Duke Energy, Southern Company, American Electric Power, American Municipal Power, companies that are hardly champions for fighting carbon pollution. It’s also worth noting that the National Hydropower Association was the only major renewable energy trade association that did not support cap-and-trade legislation, mostly because of the influence of these companies. So the argument that hydropower companies care about fighting climate change rings a little hollow to us.

    As for wind and solar not being able to “provide nearly enough energy to even put a dent in our usage,” actual data tells a very different story. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes data and projections on energy use, and wind and solar are where the growth is at in renewables. EIA recently reported that “in 2013, as a result of increases in wind and solar generation, total nonhydropower renewable generation was almost equal to hydroelectric generation for the first time.” Their projections anticipate that by 2017, the U.S. will be generating more electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal than from hydropower. By 2040, hydropower will account for less than 1/3 of all renewable generation, and we’ll be getting more power from wind alone than from hydropower. Note that those projections don’t even take into account how changing hydrology as a result of climate change will put pressure on the water that is hydropower’s fuel source, reducing hydropower’s contribution to our energy mix.

    See or or

    You can download the EIA’s data yourself here:

    We have plenty of options for energy. Let’s choose the ones that meet modern standards of environmental performance, and let’s not weaken environmental laws to protect big power companies profits.

Matt S

Thanks for your important work on this Amy. In addition to the above, the hydro industry is already being allowed to bypass wildlife and clean water laws on the east and west coast where fish elevators, barges, and trucks are artificially moving listed fish round dams in the name of “recovery”. However, the Endangered Species Act and National Marine Fisheries Service define “recovery” success (and delisting criteria) as achieving “self-sustaining” and “wild” populations. Such human dependent “trap and haul” efforts, by definition, don’t lead to “self-sustaining” fisheries recovery and are diverting money and resources away from effective wild fisheries recovery. Trap and haul projects also fail to address the climate impact (including reservoir emissions and reduced carbon sequestration), degraded downstream water quality and habitat declines caused by the dams.

By supporting and proposing additional trap and haul projects like this, American Rivers, is already supporting a huge hydro industry loophole to bypass the word and intent of the Endangered Species Act. I support AR’s efforts to stop this misguided legislation, but also ask that AR end the current policy of promoting the trap and haul loophole.

A growing coalition will be seeking an end to trap and haul projects as a viable means to achieve and meet stated fisheries recovery criteria. A coalition letter outlining this position can be found on the link below. We hope that AR will stop supporting this loophole and transition towards only supporting projects that benefit “self-sustaining” fish and wildlife goals. Thanks for your consideration.

    Jeff Wiedner

    Thanks Matt. I’m glad we agree that this terrible assault by Congress on our nation’s rivers, and particularly endangered fish, needs to be stopped at all costs.

    With respect to non-volitional fish passage, we understand that you prefer removal to fish passage. We generally prefer removal as well, and thats why we’ve removed or helped to remove hundreds of dams across the country. However, we are forced to accept the reality that in some cases dam removal is simply not achievable. We wish that were not the reality, but we must work with the situation at hand. In those cases, we will do whatever we can to make the dam owner, whether it is the United States Government or a private entity, take measures to protect endangered species, including non-volitional fish passage. The alternative in these cases is no fish passage at all, and to us, that’s unacceptable. We are sorry you do not agree with our approach.

    We hope that you will join us in fighting against legislation that, if enacted, will end any chance we have of recovering endangered species affected by hydropower dams. Let’s not take the industry’s bait and fight against our friends when we share a common goal: restoring rivers and protecting endangered and threatened species. Let’s instead work together to defeat the industry’s attempt to make these goals impossible to achieve.

      Matt S

      Hi Jeff,

      Several groups do think dam removal is achievable on the Yuba and a UC Davis study recommends further study of dam removal options in this case. AmRivers was not forced to accept a reality that dam removal is not achievable here. Supporting trap and truck before the required CEQA and NEPA environmental review process is even started or the Army Corps ecosystem feasibility study is conducted is very premature and disappointing.

      This preemptive support for trap and truck is undermining our environmental review process, gives the dam owner leverage to seek a loophole to this public process, and makes dam removal less achievable for other groups working on a long-term solution for the Yuba that involves dam removal at Englebright and/or other volitional fish passage alternative such as dam lowering and fishway.

      Trap and haul does not “protect endangered species” or lead to “recovery” of “self-sustaining” “wild” fisheries as clearly defined in the ESA and California Fish and Wildlife Fish recovery planning documents cited in our letter (included again below as it appears to have been deleted from the previous post).

      The alternative is not “no fish passage at all”. A comprehensive alternatives study has not been completed yet. Dam removal, dam lowering with a fishway, and expansive downstream floodplain and rearing habitat restoration are all possibilities not yet fully assessed and which provide direct benefits to self-sustaining, wild fisheries; unlike trap and truck.

      We are not taking any hydro industry bait. To the contrary, we are pointing out that AR is supporting a loophole that the hydro industry is using and wants to use more often. This will be to the detriment of recovering listed species and restoring watersheds. We do have a goal of restoring rivers and protecting listed species. Unfortunately, by definition, trap and truck does not achieve either of these goals.

      We hope AR will reconsider their position on this issue and the long-term implications for meeting fish recovery objectives, multi-species benefits, and improving watershed health.

      Groups Oppose Trapping and Trucking Fish Around Dams

Steven Hawley

Hi Jeff, Hi Amy,
Steve Hawley here, I’ve been comparing notes with Matt on the similarities between AR’s support of trap and haul programs on the Yuba, and what’s happened here in Oregon on the Deschutes. You probably know that AR was a signatory to a 22-party MOA that was supposed to put fish back in the upper basin of the Deschutes. But for biological reasons too complicated to go into here, that program, which consists of a $180 million “selective withdrawal” in the forebay of Lake Billy Chinook, and then the usual trap and haul protocol, simply is not working. Steelhead smolts have an 80% mortality rate, sockeye and chinook are not faring much better. I would challenge you or any AR staff person to furnish an example of any trap and haul program for anadromous fish on any western river that has produced results that could even be loosely defined as success–either in terms of ESA standards or producing reliable numbers for sport or commercial fisheries. If it’s happened anywhere on the Pacific slope, I’m unaware of this happy result. Like Matt, I support your efforts to kill this legislation, but also would respectfully point out that you are supporting another loophole that enables utilities to wriggle out of their obligations to fish and wildlife.

Russell S Donnelly

Hello, Not even government can own and influence the waters of this continent. NOW THE CORPORATE MACHINE THINKS IT DOES AND CAN OWN THE WATER. BS !!!!!! Who in the heyaah do they think they is !!!???