A letter from Ruthie Brown published in the Wednesday edition of The Aspen Times ("They fight hydro with our money") accuses American Rivers of using federal funds to oppose the Castle Creek Energy Center. That is completely false. American Rivers does not use any federal funds for our hydropower advocacy, which is entirely funded by competitive grants from charitable foundations. Our funding sources and finances are a matter of public record and are available at www.americanrivers.org/about/
American Rivers has used federal grants to help communities restore thousands of miles of rivers and improve public safety and flood protection, revitalize fish and wildlife, improve recreation and boost local economies. Our Colorado director, Matt Rice, did not mention those grants during the community forum because they are not relevant to his work, and they are not in any way connected to the budget for our Colorado office. Like all recipients of federal funds, we must comply with strict requirements on how those funds can be spent. Just as the city of Aspen could not use a federal transportation grant to promote the Castle Creek project, we cannot - and do not - use federal funds to oppose it.
Brown's letter references a hearing held by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Hastings is no fan of American Rivers - or the environment. His committee
has passed bills that waive environmental reviews for offshore drilling; weaken environmental and safety regulations for coal mining; and override California's state water law, overturning a century of western water jurisprudence as well as the Endangered Species Act.
At the hearing, Hastings' (false) insinuation that groups like American Rivers use federal funds to fight hydropower development was a thinly-veiled justification for a bill designed to restrict public participation and weaken environmental protections during hydropower licensing. We think those are bad ideas. In fact, it was our concern about a lack of meaningful environmental review and public involvement that led us to get involved with the Castle Creek project in the first place.
Ms. Brown's letter plays loose with a number of other facts as well. First, American Rivers supported the bill streamlining the federal licensing of hydropower projects. In fact, we joined with the hydropower industry in providing assistance to the bill's authors. Matt Rice's May 9 testimony before Congress, in favor of the legislation, spoke directly to Colorado rivers and streams, and despite Ms. Brown's assertion, it did not rely on or even mention streams in Michigan, Florida, or the U.K. It can be downloaded at www.energycommerce.house.gov.
Second, that legislation (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.112hr5892) does not contain a "loophole" that allows us to "slant the playing field" in our favor. The bill allows conduit hydropower projects less than 5 megawatts to avoid federal licensing altogether, a change we support. But the bill also contains a provision designed to make sure that no one tries to cheat. A would-be developer must notify Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before taking the exemption. If anyone provides Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with evidence that the proposed project is not actually a conduit project, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must consider that evidence and promptly issue a written determination that the project is or is not a conduit. When the bill's sponsors asked us why we felt that such a provision was necessary, we pointed to the city of Aspen's attempt to disguise the Castle Creek Energy Center as a conduit. They agreed that the bill should not encourage such conduct.
House Resolution 5892 passed the U.S. House unanimously on July 9. The bill is not controversial and it represents a perfect example of how Republicans and Democrats, conservationists and industry groups, can work together to pass meaningful legislation that improves both our environment and our economy. It is good for rivers, and for the communities that depend upon them, and we are proud to support it.
American Rivers cares about clean, healthy rivers. We want to make sure our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy them as we do today. Those core values leave us with serious reservations about the Castle Creek project. We are concerned that increased diversions will harm Castle and Maroon creeks. We're troubled by the legal strategies the city has employed in pursuit of a federal license. We believe that Aspen should give serious consideration to alternatives.
It is disappointing that supporters of the hydropower project have chosen to falsely accuse opponents of financial impropriety rather than to debate the merits of their case in a civil manner.
Senior director, Federal River Management