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President Signs Bill Protecting New River

October 1976

Citation: ELR 10219

Concluding, for the moment, a 14-year battle by North Carolina residents—joined by local politicians—and national environmental groups against the nation's largest utility, American Electric Power, President Ford on September 11 signed into law a bill that formally includes a 26.5 mile segment of the New River in North Carolina in the national wild and scenic rivers system.1 The law effectively vacates a license granted by the Federal Power Commission (FPC) to an American Electric subsidiary, Appalachian Power Company, to build a 40,000-acre pumped storage project that would have flooded 70 miles of the New River, including part of the now-protected portion. Not willing to concede the outcome of the controversy, however, Appalachian has threatened to sue the government for $500 million compensation for the added cost it says is necessary to construct a comparable coal-fired electric plant.2

President Ford's signature confirmed the conditional designation of the New as a scenic river by Interior Secretary Thomas S. Kleppe on April 13.3 The effect of this administrative action, which was proposed on March 12, was placed in doubt by the D.C. Circuit's ruling on March 24 in North Carolina v. FPC4 upholding the license against a NEPA challenge by the state. Following the court's decision, the North Carolina congressional delegation introduced several bills to designate the New River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.5 In August, Congress passed one of these bills, H.R. 13372, by overwhelming margins,6 having rejected amendments that would have left the FPC license undisturbed.7

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