On February 22, 2019, FERC issued a final rule (“Order No. 857”) conforming FERC’s regulations to the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (“AWIA”), which amended sections of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) pertaining to preliminary permits, qualifying conduit hydropower facilities, and start for payment of annual charges. 
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On February 5, 2019, a copy of a December 13, 2018 policy directive memorandum from the U.S. Department of the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) Chief of Engineers was released.  Notably, the memorandum directs the USACE to adhere to a “default time period” of 60 days for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Clean Water Act (“CWA”) Section 401 with regard to USACE’s issuance of dredge and fill permits under CWA Section 404.  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water quality certification.
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On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (“D.C. Circuit”) in a unanimous decision granted a petition for review in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, No. 14-1271 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019).  The key holding in the case, which concerns the ongoing FERC’s relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted application for water quality certification within one year from when it was initially filed in 2006.  The applicant for many years had followed, at the request of the States, the common industry practice of “withdraw-and-resubmit” of its water quality certification application in an attempt to annually reset the one-year time period for the States to act, as established under CWA section 401.  The D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe invalidated this practice as a means of resetting the statutory clock, instead holding that the clear text of CWA establishes that “a full year is the absolute maximum” time for a state to decide on a water quality certification application.
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On January 17, 2019, FERC denied requests for rehearing of its prior order to revoke Boyce Hydro Power, LLC’s (“Boyce Hydro”) license for its 4.8 MW Edenville Project No. 10808 (“Edenville Project”), which consists of a 6,600-foot-long dam in Michigan.  Boyce Hydro and the Sanford Lake Preservation Association (“Sanford Lake”) (together, the “Petitioners”) raised several claims in their requests for rehearing, including that FERC discounted the efforts Boyce Hydro took to remedy safety issues at the dam. 
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On January 18, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) denied a petition by the State of North Carolina to review two FERC orders involving the relicensing of the Yadkin River Hydroelectric Project (“Yadkin Project”) in North Carolina.  The D.C. Circuit found substantial evidence supporting FERC’s decision to deny North Carolina’s allegations of misrepresentation by Alcoa Power Generating, Inc. (“Alcoa”), the license applicant, and to grant a new operating license to Alcoa for the Yadkin Project.  The court also rejected North Carolina’s proposal to invoke the federal recapture provision of the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) to the state at Alcoa’s net investment plus severance damages.
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On December 18, 2018, FERC eliminated the requirement for hydroelectric project licensees to file Form 80, which solicited information on the use and development of recreation facilities at FERC-licensed hydropower projects.  FERC also revised Sections 8.1 and 8.2 of its regulations to (1) modernize licensee public notice practice, (2) clarify recreational signage requirements, and (3) provide flexibility to assist licensees’ compliance with these requirements.  The Final Rule will go into effect 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
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On November 23, 2018, the FERC After Action Panel (“FAAP”) issued a report (“FAAP Report”) providing an evaluation of the causes and recommendations to FERC after a spillway failure that took place at the Oroville Dam in February 2017.  According to the FAAP Report, issues with the Oroville Dam spillways have been ongoing since the project was commissioned in 1967, and there are shortcomings related to the implementation of FERC’s Part 12 dam safety regulations.  In light of its assessment, the FAAP provided FERC with recommendations for improvement of the Part 12 program.
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On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Department of the Army (together, “Agencies”) released their much-anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”), which if adopted would scale back the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) by narrowing the definition of “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) to include only those waters that are oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands, and their “naturally occurring surface water channels.”  The practical implications of the Proposed Rule for hydropower project owners and energy project developers are that ephemeral streams and many ponds and ditches used in agricultural, industrial, and construction activities would no longer be within the jurisdictional reach of the CWA, alleviating the requirement for and uncertainty surrounding permitting requirements and related mitigation measures.
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