Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

16 Environmental Law 639 (1986)


In 1920, Congress enacted the Federal Power Act (FPA) to secure inexpensive and widely available power through federal licensing of private hydroelectric development in accordance with a "comprehensive plan." The Federal Power Commission (FPC) was charged with administering the statute and undertook its planning obligations with diligence, preparing plans for at least two river basins. However, chronic manpower and resource deficiencies soon led the FPC to neglect Congress' planning directive. No comprehensive plans have been produced since 1930, either by the FPC or its successor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This failure to plan, combined with the avalanche of hydro-license applications caused by recently enacted federal subsidies, has exposed serious flaws in FERC's licensing process, flaws which result in haphazard development and inefficient dedication of basin-wide resources, including anadromous fish. This Article examines the flaws in federal hydropower licensing resulting from FERC's refusal to plan for development, explicates the benefits of comprehensive planning, and traces the history of federal hydropower legislation. This history proves that Congress intended the FPC and FERC to prepare "real" plans before permitting or licensing projects. Finally, the Article examines current efforts in Congress and the courts to reinforce the FPA's planning mandate. The author concludes that comprehensive plans offer the best hope for rational decision making about the future of the nation's river resources.