Moolenaar, Dingell Introduce National Dam and Hydropower Safety Legislation

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Congressman John Moolenaar (R-MI) today introduced bipartisan legislation that makes reforms and improvements to dam and hydropower safety operations and oversight. Dingell and Moolenaar pushed for the provisions after the breach of the Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam failures in Michigan caused extensive damage throughout the region’s downstream communities, destroying homes, businesses, roads, and bridges.

The lawmakers’ legislation, the National Dam and Hydropower Safety Improvements Act of 2020, would enhance dam and hydropower safety operation requirements nationwide and aims to modernize existing infrastructure through the development of new best practices and improved communications between FERC and states. This legislation was written in response to the aftermath of the Edenville dam and Stanford dam failures in Michigan this year and would also require a FERC to provide a briefing and report to Congress on the tragic incident.

“In the midst of a global health pandemic and economic devastation, Michigan experienced a catastrophic, avoidable infrastructure collapse. The breach of the Edenville and Sanford dams caused extensive damage in Michigan and its downstream communities. It drowned homes, businesses, and whole cities,” said Dingell. “It is clear there are serious gaps in existing laws that need to be addressed and this could have been prevented. We can never let this happen again in any city in America with a high hazard dam. I look forward to continuing to advance this legislation next Congress and hope to enlist strong bipartisan support from my colleagues.”

“I’ve been working hard to help our community recover, including securing approval for more than $100 million in federal assistance that has come to our community to rebuild homes, small businesses, and private wells, as well as roads and bridges,” said Moolenaar. “However, there’s no doubt that the federal and state regulators failed our community when they were working with an uncooperative private dam owner. Those failures compounded over more than a decade into a devastating event that affected the lives of thousands of residents. This bipartisan legislation will address gaps in existing law and do more to ensure compliance with the safety regulations that are paramount to protecting the people of Michigan.”

The National Dam and Hydropower Safety Improvements Act of 2020 would specifically do the following:

  • Require FERC to provide a briefing and a report to Congress on the findings of the independent forensic analysis of the Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam failures.
  • Add a new requirement to section 10 of the Federal Power Act to mandate dam and project works meet the FERC’s dam safety requirements and to require the licensee to manage, operate, and maintain the dam and project works consistent with dam safety requirements.
  • Amend section 15 of the Federal Power Act to require FERC to issue a new license only if the Commission determines the dam and other project works meet the Commission’s dam safety requirements and that the operating conditions of the license are consistent with those requirements.
  • Require FERC to establish procedures for evaluating the financial health of prospective hydropower licensees.
  • Require FERC to convene a technical conference with State representatives to examine best practices for Dam Safety.

In May 2020, the Edenville dam and Stanford dam failed after heavy rains and flooded the Midland area communities. It’s operator, Boyce Hydro, had a long history of dam safety and compliance problems that likely resulted in the failure. In response, Dingell and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) sent letters to FERC regarding its oversight and the state of Michigan to gather the facts on the dam breach, how the state evaluated the dam in the time since, and additional information on the regulatory and legal actions the state took following the revocation of the license. In June, the provisions of this bill were also included in the House-passed infrastructure package, and in September, they were including in the House-passed energy package.