The Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is an example of an existing regulatory process that has the capacity to bridge the gap between science and decision making by clearly delineating existing science, the climate-regulatory nexus, and additional scientific work needed to inform licensing or relicensing of non-federal hydropower projects. In a parallel, but interacting set of legal and regulatory processes, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must conduct analyses based on the best available science
in order to implement the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and NEPA, and to develop terms and conditions to protect fisheries for the 30-50 year term of the license and the longer life of the project itself. Therefore, NMFS must understand the combined effects of hydropower projects and climate change to fulfill its own mandates to protect anadromous fish, protected species and habitat. Federal Executive Order (EO) #13693 on climate change sustainability require use of climate risks in planning, also recommended in NOAA’s own guidance on implementing ESA, and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance on implementing NEPA; however, as an independent agency FERC is not subject to that EO.
In the past, FERC has consistently rejected NMFS’ climate study requests, stating, among other reasons, that climate science is ‘too uncertain,’ and therefore not actionable. Yet, uncertainty in climate change on regional scales is large, and it would provide a mischaracterization of the risks to focus only on a single climate future. For example, high-end warming scenarios might greatly reduce or eliminate suitable fish habitat, whereas other plausible regional scenarios would allow significant suitable habitat to remain. This presentation will focus on the role that uncertainty in projections of climate change has played in developing acceptable climate study requests for the Susitna-Watana project on Alaska’s Susitna River, the LaGrange Project on the Tuolumne R. in California, and the Hiram Project on the Saco R. in Maine, and whether recent recommended guidance adequately supports its consideration.