The Hoopa Valley Tribe emerged victorious from federal court of appeals against PacifiCorp on Friday, with a ruling that may pave the way for the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. It could be the largest river restoration in U.S. history.
The ruling against PacifiCorp requires the company to adhere to mandatory requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River, which they have avoided for over a decade. In order to operate the dams, the company needs a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They haven’t had a license since 2006 and have instead operated on temporary licenses which enabled them to avoid completing water certifications which force modernization of the dam. Not anymore, said the court.
“(The arrangement) serves to circumvent a congressionally granted authority over the licensing, conditioning, and developing of a hydropower project. …Thus, if allowed, the withdrawal-and-resubmission scheme could be used to indefinitely delay federal licensing,” the court document stated. “The record indicates that PacifiCorp’s water quality certification request has been complete and ready for review for more than a decade… .”
PacifiCorp was operating under a license from 1956, which was well before the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, fish passage provisions and water flow requirements. While the company was working on the temporary licenses, they made $27 million in profits per year.
Now, the company must invest tens of millions of dollars into dam modernization, or eliminate them entirely.
The victory for the Hoopa Tribe was just the initial step in restoring their home on the Klamath River, which has seen decimated fish populations in recent decades. PacifiCorp is currently reviewing their options to fully understand the implications.
If it were up to the Hoopa Tribe, the next step will be the expedited removal of the dams, which would be a truly monumental victory.