Bush administration tweaks dam regulations to favor industry

The Bush administration has just proposed a regulatory change that would grant the hydropower industry exclusive rights to appeal Interior Department rulings on dam licensing and operation — and deny those rights to states, Indian tribes, and environmental groups. Many privately owned dams, built before laws protecting fish and other species were enacted, will come up for relicensing in the next few years, and the administration’s proposed change could save the hydropower industry many millions in environmental mitigation settlements. Some lawyers inside the Interior Department say the change may be an unconstitutional violation of due process. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) says the change “would protect utility profits at the expense of fish, wildlife, and conservation values.” Tex G. Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, protests that the regulatory shift “undermines the very trust responsibility that Interior is supposed to be the lead department in protecting.” The proposal is open to public comment until Nov. 8.