Legal &
Regulatory Updates

Resources: Legal & Regulatory Updates

Hydro Operations Renewable Energy Climate Change 
Legal & Regulatory Updates

Legal & Regulatory Updates

Attorney members of NWHA are invited to post legal updates or articles on regulatory issues on this page. Please forward articles to for posting.

A unanimous 9-0 vote in the United State Supreme Court reversed the earlier decision by the Montana Supreme Court in the case PPL Montana v. the State of Montana. The decision reverses the state's decision that the lands in question became state lands when Montana entered the union. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court asserted the federal authority to determine Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce on the basis of regulation of interstate commerce. The case further asserts that rivers must be analyzed on a segment-by-segment basis and that the state's trust powers have no bearing on federal law determining riverbed title under the equal footing doctrine. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the decision. NWHA was a party to an industry brief detailed below.

NWHA Files Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Montana PPL v. Montana

September 6, 2011

Subject: Supreme Court Amicus Brief Opportunity

On June 20, the Supreme Court granted cert. in the PPL Montana v. Montana lawsuit. NWHA joined onto an amicus brief because of the importance of the underlying issue. The U.S. Supreme Court will be reviewing whether the Montana Supreme Court erred in concluding that riverbeds occupied by PPL Montana's hydroelectric facilities are the property of the State of Montana because they were navigable for title purposes at the time Montana became a State.

This case involves Montana state court litigation resulting from claims made by the State of Montana seeking to require Petitioner to pay a portion of its revenues as “rent” and “back rent” for use of the streambeds under certain of PPL Montana’s dams and reservoirs. The case focuses on two hydropower projects * Thompson Falls (P-1869) and Missouri-Madison (P-2188) * with facilities on the Missouri, Madison, and Clark Fork Rivers. The projects were initially licensed in 1949 (P-1869) and 1956 (P-2188), and later issued renewed, long-term licenses by FERC. The total acreage upon which PPL Montana has been ordered to pay rent to the State is approximately 5,600 acres. This acreage includes all areas within the FERC-established project boundaries that formed the streambed prior to construction of the dams.

The State of Montana has laid claim to the ownership of the original beds and banks of the entire Madison, Missouri and Clark Fork Rivers, asserting that it owns those lands in trust for the people of Montana, even though the relevant portions of those rivers have historically been understood to have been non-navigable for title purposes at the time of Montana’s statehood in 1889. The State’s claim of ownership was confirmed by a divided decision of the Montana Supreme Court interpreting federal title navigability law and asserting ownership (and the concomitant right to charge rent for past and future occupation) of the riverbeds.

The amicus brief agrees with PPL Montana that the Montana Supreme Court’s decision conflicts with the decisions of this Court and other courts. The brief also points out that if the State court’s decision is not corrected, the decision has the potential of being adopted by other States, thereby imposing even more substantial and disruptive burdens on the nation’s hydropower and other infrastructure.

ESA Law Alert: Federal Agencies Plan Changes to ESA Regulations

June 1, 2011

On May 26, 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (the "Services") launched a joint effort to identify and implement administrative changes to regulations promulgated under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). According to the Services, the effort is aimed at accelerating the recovery of threatened and endangered species, enhancing on-the-ground conservation efforts, and better engaging the Services' and their partners' resources to meet ESA goals. This includes enhancing efficiency, clarity, and consistency in agency regulations and actions, and encouraging innovative and cooperative solutions to ESA challenges.

Treasury Revises Guidance Concerning "Qualified Facility

April 15, 2011

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has issued revised guidance, including additional frequently asked questions (FAQs), concerning the Section 1603 grant in lieu of tax credits. The guidance confirms and clarifies several significant issues for anaerobic digestion facilities and other facilities that generate electricity from gases or liquids derived from open-loop biomass or municipal solid waste. 

FERC Hardens Stance on Overdue Hydro Progress Reports

John Clements, Chuck Sensiba, Van Ness Feldman
January 24, 2011

On January 20, 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied rehearing of FERC staff's decision to cancel a preliminary permit in a case where the permit holder failed to file a progress report that was required under the permit.

For more information: If you would like additional information, please contact Chuck Sensiba or John Clements at 202-298-1800 (Washington, D.C.) or Matt Love in the Seattle office at 206-357-1482. Matt Love is the current General Counsel of the Northwest Hydropower Association.

NMFS Announces Plan to Proposed Critical Habitat Designations for Columbia River Salmon and Puget Sound Steelhead

Stoel Rives Endangered Species Law Group
January 20, 2011

On January 10, 2011, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) announcing the agency's plan to prepare critical habitat designation proposals for lower Columbia River (LCR) coho salmon and Puget Sound steelhead, two species currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

For more information: Contact Barbara Craig in Stoel Rives' Portland Office at 503-294-9166. This is a legal news alert from the Stoel Rives Endangered Species Act Law Group, Seattle and Portland offices.

D.C. Circuit Vacates FERC’s Federal Land Fees Schedule

by Chuck Sensiba and Henry Stern, Van Ness Feldman
January 4, 2011

On January 4, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) 2009 final rule establishing annual charges for hydropower projects operating on federal lands.


 Bulletins posted on this page are for the benefit of information to our members and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion, and neither creates nor constitutes evidence of an attorney-client relationship, but are for informational purposes only.


Legal & Regulatory Committee

Committee Overview

The Legal and Regulatory Committee recommends actions to the NWHA board on legal issues or regulatory rulemaking. Contact NWHA staff for more information.


Matt Love
Van Ness Feldman
719 Second Avenue, Suite 1150
Seattle, WA 98104
TEL: (360) 357-1482
FAX: (206) 623-4986

 [Top of Page]




Membership    Contact Us

P.O. Box 2517, Clackamas, OR 97015
Phone: 503-545-9420 Fax: 866-329-6525
©2013 Northwest Hydroelectric Association

Web Site Design by Eureka Software, Inc.