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Michael Swiger For Michael Swiger, it’s all water over the dam. A specialist in hydroelectricity, the 49-year-old Van Ness Feldman partner excels at helping public agencies and utilities balance competing interests in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceedings. “Mike is the finest all-around legal professional that I have ever worked with,” says Steve Klein, senior executive of Tacoma Power in Tacoma, Wash. “He has outstanding judgment, ethics, and intellect � and he also has an engaging personality.” Since 1992, Swiger has been representing the city-owned utility in FERC’s longest-running hydroelectric proceeding. For more than 30 years, the city has been embroiled in disputes over its Cushman project � two dams and generators built in the 1920s on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. The Skokomish Tribe fiercely opposes the dams, which they say have nearly destroyed salmon and steelhead trout runs, silted up the river, and caused flooding. They have sued the city and federal governments for $6 billion in damages. In renewing the Cushman license in 1998, FERC added new environmental conditions, including the expansion of salmon habitat and a dramatic increase in the minimum flow of water released by the dams. The city appealed, arguing that under the new conditions, it would cost at least $2 million a year more to produce power from the facility than to simply buy electricity from another source. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently granted Tacoma Power’s motion to stay the new conditions pending appeal. The city has offered an $88 million package of fish, wildlife, and recreation enhancements in exchange for relicensing. “We’re hoping for a resolution that preserves the project,” says Swiger. Another client up to its ears in competing interests is the California Department of Water Resources, which seeks to relicense its Oroville Dam on the Feather River. Among the issues: State and federal fishery regulators want the dam to release enough water to lower the river’s temperature for salmon habitat. But rice farmers use the river for irrigation, and water that is too cold impairs their crop. And boaters want the water level of the reservoir kept high enough so they can use their docks. “It makes it difficult to achieve an easy settlement,” observes Swiger. Still, “a lot of settlements can be win-win,” he says, noting that California has offered another $50 million to the local governments for recreational development. “Mike is doing an outstanding job,” says Ward Tabor, assistant chief counsel for the Department of Water Resources. “He’s got excellent relationships with the FERC staff people we deal with, and he’s able to work well with all the many stakeholders we have.” Farther north, Swiger is helping the Portland, Ore.-based utility PacifiCorp with several relicensing projects. “Mike has provided PacifiCorp valuable legal support in the FERC hydro arena,” says John Sample, senior counsel of PacifiCorp. “He brings broad experience and a wealth of knowledge to many complex legal issues we face.” In the next 10 to 15 years, Swiger says, half of FERC-licensed hydroelectric projects will require relicensing. Because of their complexity, relicensings are typically started six to seven years in advance. Van Ness Feldman’s 20-lawyer hydroelectric practice, which Swiger leads, is already feeling the uptick in demand, he says. Other notable energy lawyers at the firm include Robert Nordhaus, J. Curtis Moffatt, and Gary Bachman. Swiger graduated from Yale Law School in 1982 with a joint master’s degree in political science. He signed on to Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge as a first-year associate in the nuclear power group. In 1986, he moved to Van Ness Feldman, where he made partner in 1991. In recent months, Swiger has been lobbying Congress on the hydroelectric provisions of the current energy bill. “It tries to introduce more balance into the licensing process so federal regulatory agencies must consider costs and energy impact as well as environmental protections,” he explains, adding that his clients are happy with the language in the bill passed by the House. “It could make a difference on relicensing in the next 10 to 15 years.”

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