In 1920, Congress passed the Federal Water Power Act, which gave the Federal Power Commission (FPC), the Commission’s predecessor, its original authority to license and regulate non-federal hydropower projects. As Congress expanded the regulatory authority of the FPC, the Federal Water Power Act ultimately became Part I of the Federal Power Act (FPA). Part I of the FPA has been amended by subsequent statutes including the Electric Consumers Protection Act of 1986, the Energy Policy Act of 1992, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, and the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. The Commission relies on these authorities to carry out its hydropower responsibilities, including: the issuance of preliminary permits; determinations regarding qualifying conduit facilities; the issuance of licenses for the construction and operation of new projects; the issuance of relicenses for existing projects; the investigation and assessment of headwater benefits; and the oversight of all ongoing project operations, including dam safety and security inspections, public safety, and environmental monitoring. While the Commission’s responsibility under the FPA is to strike an appropriate balance among the many competing developmental and non-developmental (including environmental) interests, several other statutes affect hydropower regulation. These include, but are not limited to, NEPA, the Clean Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.
The Commission’s Hydropower Program is divided into three major components.