American Rivers Urges Maryland Congressional Delegation to Oppose Federal Hydropower Bill Over Conowingo Concerns

In a June 23, 2015, op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, American Rivers President and CEO Bob Irvin urged Maryland’s federal legislators to oppose proposed legislation that would remove the ability of Maryland to exercise licensing and oversight authority over the Conowingo Dam, including for water quality violations.  In general, S. 1236 “The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2015” would remove the ability of states to play a direct role in the relicensing of hydroelectric facilities before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The bill was introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and heard by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 19.

In the op-ed, Irvin argued the importance of Maryland’s presence as part of the relicensing process and asked legislators to join with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in opposition to the bill:

What’s at stake for Marylanders? Exelon Corporation is currently seeking a new 46-year license from FERC to operate the Conowingo Dam, located at the head of the bay near the Pennsylvania border. It needs Maryland to certify that the dam’s operations will not violate state water quality standards before FERC can grant the license. Right now, our state officials and natural resource agencies have the authority to negotiate for changes to the license that benefit Marylanders and the bay. …

Nearly 200 million tons of sediment are trapped behind Conowingo, and during big storms large quantities of this sediment are flushed into the bay. Maryland is pressing Exelon to agree to clean up the dam before the state will sign off on the new license. If Congress passes the proposed bill, Maryland’s authority disappears, and Exelon gets to pass the costs of dealing with the dam’s pollution along to taxpayers. …

Fortunately, the state of Maryland is fighting back. Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration understand the importance of the Conowingo Dam’s Water Quality Certification and are standing up for Maryland and for the Chesapeake Bay by opposing this damaging legislation. Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles and Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton recently sent letters to Congress pointing out that the legislation being considered would relegate states to “bystander or second-class status” with regard to protecting water quality. For defending Maryland’s right to protect our waters, Governor Hogan deserves our thanks.

Maryland’s congressional delegation should join with Governor Hogan in opposing this legislation. Rarely do our senators and members of Congress have to defend the bay from such a blatant attempt to roll back environmental protections. Fifty percent of the bay’s fresh water flows down the Susquehanna River and over the Conowingo Dam. The new federal license for Conowingo offers Maryland a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring the dam into compliance with modern laws and standards for environmental protection. Maryland cannot afford to lose its authority to protect the Chesapeake Bay from Conowingo’s pollution.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition also submitted comments in opposition to the legislation on June 17, 2015.