FERC solicits panel members to resolve hydropower licensing study disputes

Monday, October 29, 2018

U.S. hydropower regulators have asked for volunteers interested in serving as panel members to assist in resolving disputes related to the scope of studies required for hydropower licensing.

Under federal law, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is tasked with processing applications for licenses for most hydropower projects located in the U.S. To process any given application, the Commission typically uses one of three different licensing processes. Since 2005, the Commission's "Integrated Licensing Process" or ILP has been the default choice.

Under the ILP, the applicant seeking a license files a proposed study plan describing the studies it intends to conduct to inform the Commission's review of its application. Studies might cover the project's impact on a variety of types of resources and issues, such as aquatic, terrestrial, cultural, recreational, geological, land management, engineering and socioeconomic topics. After a 90-day period of consultation with stakeholders and Commission staff, the applicant may file a revised study plan for Commission approval. Ultimately, the director of the Commission's Office of Energy Projects will issue a study determination approving the study plan with any modifications based on the record. Whatever studies are required by the Commission-approved study plan must be conducted by the applicant or its consultants.

The nature and extent of the studies required can be controversial. Stakeholders have opportunities to comment on the applicant's original study plan, to participate in consultation, and to comment to the Commission on the revised study plan.

Under the ILP, certain federal or state agencies or tribes also have the ability to request that a study dispute be referred to a dispute resolution panel. The three-member panel would consist of FERC staff, the agency or tribal representative referring the dispute, and an independent third person selected by the other two panelists from a list of subject-matter experts. The panel members make a finding with respect to each disputed study request, on the extent to which each study criteria set forth in the regulations is or is not met, and why. The panel then makes a recommendation to the Director of the Office of Energy Projects based on its findings.

On October 22, 2018, the Commission issued a notice requesting applications from those interested in being listed as potential panel members. The Commission previously compiled lists in 2004, 2010, and 2015. For the latest round, the Commission has requested applications by January 31, 2019.

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