Science in action or science inaction? Evaluating the implementation of "best available science” in hydropower relicensing


Over the next two decades, half of all hydropower projects in the USA will require relicensing by the Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC). Relicensing proceedings invoke a range of informational sources and agency regulators are tasked with using the “best available science” (BAS) to make informed decisions about hydropower operations and management. Although embraced as the standard, BAS is not well-defined. The Kennebec and Penobscot River watersheds in Maine provide an ideal opportunity for studying BAS in the relicensing process in the context of fish passage concerns. Using citation analysis and an online survey, we identified informational sources used in relicensing decisions for dams in this system and assessed agency perceptions of BAS. Analysis of relicensing documents (n=62) demonstrates that FERC and licensee documents are highly similar in citation composition. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) documents typically cite more sources and are three times more likely to cite peer-reviewed sources than FERC and licensee documents. Survey data reveals that federal and state agency respondents (n=49) rate peer-reviewed literature highly as BAS, followed by university, agency, and expert sources while industry and community sources rate poorly. Federal respondents report using peer-reviewed/academic sources more frequently and expert sources less frequently than state respondents. Overall, the agreement between individuals with respect to the valuation of sources is low. The reported differences in information use may be linked to disparities in the access to certain sources of information, particularly peer-reviewed literature. Enhanced understanding of information use may aid in identifying pathways for better informed relicensing decisions.

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Energy Policy



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