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Environmental Groups Attack Hydropower Over Large Emissions Profile

A coalition of more than 130 organizations and companies signed a petition Monday, urging the federal government to require hydropower utilities to report emissions data.

“By reporting emissions from dams and reservoirs, we can develop smarter climate policies at the federal, state, and local levels,” Michael Hiatt, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, said in a statement. “The Biden administration has prioritized addressing methane pollution and building a clean energy future.”

“It is imperative that we better understand methane emissions from dams and reservoirs, and that we do not pursue energy sources that are not actually clean,” Hiatt said.

The petition, led by Earthjustice and outdoor apparel company Patagonia, asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate a rulemaking procedure that would add dams and reservoirs as a source category under the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GGRP). The coalition argued that hydropower facilities are exempt from reporting requirements despite being a producer of harmful methane emissions.

The GGRP is an EPA program that requires greenhouse gas emission sources, fuel and industrial gas suppliers to publicly disclose how much pollution they emit on an annual basis. The agency shares the data in an annual October report.

“This petition matters in the fight against climate change because you can’t solve the biggest problem facing humanity without good information,” Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert said. “The EPA counts greenhouse gas emissions from more than 8,000 sites. It doesn’t make sense to exclude dams and reservoirs that are emitting methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-five times as potent as carbon dioxide.”

But groups such as the National Hydropower Association (NHA) have argued that the power source is essential to ensuring a carbon-free future. The group has described hydropower as a “climate solution.”

Overall, hydropower accounted for about 2.65% of the total energy consumed in the U.S. in 2020, the latest year with data, according to the Energy Information Administration. By comparison, solar produced 1.32% and wind accounted for 3.12%, the data showed.

In July 2021, Democratic Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill that would create new federal tax incentives to encourage hydropower development. The bipartisan legislation maintained the importance of ensuring the availability of “emissions-free, affordable electricity” to Americans.

“Recognizing the importance of the health of our rivers and hydropower, Senators Cantwell and Murkowski are moving forward a critical piece of a negotiated proposal between conservation groups, dam safety organizations, and the hydropower industry for investment in the rehabilitation, retrofit, and removal of dams,” four industry groups — American Rivers, the NHA, The Nature Conservancy and Low Impact Hydropower Institute — said in a joint statement after the bill was introduced.

Green groups have also taken issue with both solar and wind power on environmental grounds. They have also opposed mining projects in the U.S. despite the importance of critical minerals for developing clean energy technology.

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