Masters Thesis

A policy analysis of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's hydroelectric relicensing process

In this thesis, the FERC’s hydroelectric relicensing process is examined from a historical perspective. It finds that strong federal control to ensure a comprehensive plan for private capital development of hydropower was necessary in the early development era and expansion of the United States economy. Over time, Congress and the courts have devolved this centralized decision-making authority away from the FERC and shared it with a plurality of other federal and state agencies. The Electrical Consumer’s Protection Act requires that the FERC give equal consideration between the needs of development with the needs of environmental protection. This shift brought the process substantially inline with a changing public desire for species protection and environmental preservation. The Klamath River relicensing provides a case example to analyze the impacts the process has on watershed communities. Restoration of ecosystems is increasingly seen as a means to achieve economically viable communities and preserving traditional cultural ways of life. Whether the FERC and its relicensing process will be staged to enter a new era in riverine management, and the reasons why it may not change constitute an important research question. Semi-standardized interviews with Klamath relicensing participants were conducted to evaluate the strengths and limits of the process. The analysis focuses on the FERC’s comprehensive planning mandate, the FERC’s consideration of preserving the tribal trust and sovereignty, and the issue of timeliness in obtaining relicensing decisions. This thesis finds that the FERC must further modify its relicensing process to consider holistic notions of ecosystem management in order to obtain fundamental restoration outcomes.