On April 18, 2019, FERC issued a unanimous order, supported by all FERC Commissioners, ruling that the California State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) waived authority to issue a water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1641, in the pending hydropower relicensing of the Middle Fork American River Project (“Project”).  Applying the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s (“D.C. Circuit”) seminal opinion in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC issued in early 2019 (see January 30, 2019 edition of the WER), FERC held that SWRCB’s “active[] participation” in the applicant’s annual withdrawal-and-resubmittal of the license applicant’s request for Section 401 certification since 2012, “on occasion directly requesting the withdrawal and refiling,” constituted an agreement between the applicant and SWRCB that does not re-start the maximum one-year time period for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Section 401.
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On April 18, 2019, FERC issued Order No. 858, revising its regulations to conform with the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (“AWIA”), which added sections 34 and 35 to the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) authorizing FERC to issue or amend licenses for: (1) qualifying facilities at an existing nonpowered dams (section 34); and (2) closed-loop pumped storage projects (section 35).  In conformance with AWIA, Order No. 858 establishes an expedited hydropower licensing process for projects covered by newly-added FPA sections 34 and 35. 
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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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