The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton's bill that seeks to give developers of small hydroelectricity projects the ability to bypass what he and other Republicans describe as costly and time-consuming environmental reviews.
The vote on House Resolution 2842, The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2012, was 265-154. Tipton's office is saying the vote was bipartisan, but only 28 Democrats supported the initiative, while 154 opposed it.
Tipton, who represents the state's 3rd District, which includes Pitkin County, calls the bill "an action plan to create new American jobs and eliminate bureaucratic hurdles to small hydropower production." Specifically, it allows hydropower development on existing, man-made Bureau of Reclamation water canals, ditches and pipes, cuts government red tape by streamlining the regulatory process and reduces administrative costs for developing projects.
The bureau's conduits targeted in the bill are already on disturbed ground, have no environmental impact and already have gone through environmental reviews, according to Tipton's office and House GOP members who have spoken in support of the legislation.
"Republicans support an 'all-of-the-above' energy approach, and this plan takes us one step closer to achieving that goal by making it easier to produce clean, renewable, low-cost hydropower," said U.S. Rep. "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash., in a prepared statement.
Hastings is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which advanced the bill last fall.
"American families and small businesses are struggling with the high costs of energy - whether at home, at work or when filling up at the pump," Hastings said. "This bill continues the work of House Republicans to remove government obstacles that block development of our American energy resources - including renewable sources such as hydropower. Responsibly developing these resources will help address rising energy costs while also creating good-paying jobs and improving our energy security."
Following Wednesday's vote, Tipton, R-Cortez, said the bill will make significant strides in encouraging the development of clean, renewable hydropower and "getting people back to work in some of America's hardest-hit rural communities."
The bill now heads to the Senate. Democrats who lobbied against it this week predicted that it will die in the upper chamber.
"I urge my Senate colleagues to take up this common-sense bill and join the House in advancing the development of abundant and environmentally responsible hydropower, generating affordable power and creating much-needed American jobs," Tipton said.
Supporters argued that the legislation could pave the way for massive hydroelectric production, through small-scale projects, in the West. During a visit to Aspen on Saturday, Tipton said that in Colorado alone, the legislation could provide the capacity to generate as much hydroelectric power as northern Arizona's Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. On average, the dam's power plant produces 4.5 billion kilowatt-hours annually.
"What this bill promises, at no cost to taxpayers, is the freeing up of absolutely clean electricity on a scale so vast that it would take several hydroelectric dams to duplicate. Simply by getting government bureaucracies out of the way, this bill has the potential of adding thousands of megawatts of clean and renewable electricity to the nation's energy supply," said U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
On Tuesday, the bill survived a proposed amendment from U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., that would have prevented the legislation from taking effect unless the Interior Department determines that the bill would not result in net job losses.
A vote Wednesday on another Democrat-sponsored amendment that attacked the very heart of Tipton's proposal also failed. It would have continued National Environmental Policy Act compliance requirements for hydroelectric projects involving Bureau of Reclamation infrastructure.
Some House Democrats said they found it odd that the GOP was pushing a job-creation bill at a time when the party was blocking many major economic initiatives introduced by the Obama administration.
Tipton faces state Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, and Tisha Casida, a conservative businesswoman from Pueblo who has no party affiliation, in the race for the 3rd District seat. The election is set for Nov. 6.