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May 26, 2021
For Immediate Release
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The World’s Rivers, 970-218-8310

“Renewable Electricity Standard” Sign-On letter To Congress Wrong on Hydropower

Save The World’s Rivers is asking Green and Social Justice groups across the U.S. and the planet to amend a sign-on letter being sent to the U.S. Congress. The controversial sign-on letter, “Congress should enact a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and reject gas and false solutions” (posted here) has garnered media attention from several sources, including Politico (here) for the “schism” it has created in Biden’s climate plans.

Unfortunately, the sign-on letter only points out the negative impacts of “new, large-scale and ecosystem-altering hydropower“, asking Congress and President Biden to “exclude” only that type of hydropower from the “Renewable Electricity Standard”.

Save The World’s River argues that such an extremely narrow exclusion would open up rivers across the planet for the destructive use of hydropower as well as, in many instances, increasing GHG emissions caused by hydropower. For example:

  1. Many hydropower projects, regardless of their size, can cause GHG emissions greater than actual renewable sources such as wind and solar. Further, some hydropower projects can cause more GHG emissions than coal-fired powerplants. A scientific consensus over the last two decades has estimated that hydropower and other reservoirs globally “could emit up to 104 teragrams of methane annually. By comparison, NASA estimates that global methane emissions associated with burning fossil fuels totals between 80 and 120 teragrams annually.” (see Climate Central, and see “The Myth of Clean Hydro” on our website.)
  2. The size of a hydropower project is not necessarily correlated with its destructive capacity, nor does just stopping large projects solve the problem. For example, small hydropower projects can also impact endangered species on small streams and halt the flow of sediment and nutrients needed to sustain fish populations. Further, hydropower corporations, especially in Eastern Europe, are gaming the system such that instead of proposing one large project, they’re now proposing several small projects that can cause equal or greater destruction of ecosystems (see The Guardian story here).
  3. The International Commission on Large Dams describes “large” as being greater than 15 meters in height. Such an arbitrary cutoff would allow thousands of 14-meter dams to be built across the planet, thus escaping scrutiny and possibly even receiving funding by U.S. Congressional appropriations.
  4. The sign-on letter insinuates that all existing dams are “Renewable”, when nothing could be less true. For example, Hoover Dam on the Colorado River irrevocably destroyed much of the ecosystem and is estimated to create as much GHG emissions as a coal-fired powerplant.
  5. The sign-on letter says nothing about the necessary removal of aging and useless hydropower dams, which is proposed on the Klamath River and the Snake River, as just two U.S. examples.
  6. The sign-on letter completely ignores all the negative impacts of dams that are not related to GHG emissions, including:
    • Dams block rivers, including blocking fish, sediment, nutrients, and water.
    • Dams slow rivers, and therefore change the ecology, water temperature, sediment, and habitat.
    • Dams almost always make water quality worse in a river.
    • Dams can cause extinction to fish and aquatic Life.
    • Dams displace people, and cause human rights violations.
    • Dams are expensive, and that expense is often borne disproportionately by people who receive no benefit.
    • Dams can make flooding worse.
    • Dams can exacerbate coastal flooding, beach erosion, and sea level rise.
    • Dams can increase disease in humans.
  7. Finally, the sign-on letter makes no distinction about the types of destructive dams, only insinuating that “new, large-scale ecosystem altering hydropower” should be excluded. As just one example of thousands about why this is a terrible idea — arguably the most famous anti-dam fighter on the planet and Goldman Prize winner, Berta Caceres, was murdered for opposing the Agua Zarca Hydro Project on the Gualcarque River in Honduras. The project was a “run of the river” proposal, with a dam only 14 meters tall, and a reservoir only 300 meters long  (See Bloomberg story here). Would the Agua Zarca Hydro Project have been excluded by this sign-on letter? Probably not.

Save The World’s Rivers will not sign the letter to Congress unless it is amended to include all hydropower being excluded from Renewable Electricity Standards.

Save The World’s Rivers is a program of Save The Colorado.

This press release is posted here.

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