U.S. Senate bill proposes to change the hydro relicensing process.

PORTLAND (AP) – Proposed changes in the dam relicensing process could give the hydroelectric industry too much power and weaken efforts to restore salmon and other sea-run fish, according to environmental groups.

Opposing groups are joining the Penobscot Nation in taking sides against a provision of a U.S. Senate energy bill, which would give dam owners a way to contest fishways and other conditions imposed by federal natural resource agencies.

It would also provide the industry with an exclusive right to propose alternatives to fishways, which some worry will weaken federal authority to set conditions on licenses. If effect, it would result in less-effective methods for helping salmon, shad, alewives and other sea-run fish reach their spawning grounds, say opponents.

“We view it here as a major step backwards in efforts to improve fish passage and impacts to habitat from hydroelectric projects,” said John Banks, of the Penobscot Nation.

Industry representatives reject assertions the reforms represent an environmental rollback and a “power grab” that locks out the public.

They say the changes are needed to improve a process that goes on way too long, and is too costly and contentious.

“We’re trying to inject balance and certainty back into the process,” said Mark Stover, director of government affairs for the National Hydropower Association.

“We’re allowing licensees the opportunity to submit an alternative that will better recognize the value of a project. This is not a way for industry to sneak out of environmental mitigation.”

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