Statement By Attorney General Spitzer Regarding The Supreme Court's Ruling On Hydropower Projects

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the states have broad authority to regulate construction and operation of hydroelectric dams. (S.D. Warren Co. v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection, 04-1527.)

Many of the more than 1,500 hydroelectric dams throughout the country affect entire river systems. While hydroelectric dams generate electricity without air pollution or global warming emissions, they can also alter the natural ecology of rivers and wetlands. Since the 1970s, states have used their regulatory authority to help minimize adverse impacts from such projects. In today’s decision, the Supreme Court ruled that such actions are not pre-empted by the federal government.

Justice David Souter wrote for the majority:

"The alteration of water quality ... is a risk inherent in limiting river flow and releasing water through turbines .

Changes in the river ... fall within a state's legitimate legislative business and the Clean Water Act provides for a system that respects the states' concerns.''

On January 6, my office, joined by 32 other states, submitted an amicus brief in this case. The brief urged the court to respect the states’ independent legal authority to regulate projects affecting the quality of rivers and streams. I am pleased the Court has agreed with our position and upheld these important powers.