The ruling came in response to a lawsuit brought by river advocacy organizations and outdoor recreation businesses. The Court’s action authorises rules that make Energy Bill rights available even in licence proceedings that were almost complete, where settlements between all parties had been signed. The lawsuit challenging the rules was brought by America Outdoors, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Friends of the River, Idaho Rivers United, Trout Unlimited, and Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. The organizations were represented by attorneys of Earthjustice in Seattle, Washington.

According to the river advocacy groups, many power companies have been operating hydro power dams for decades under permits issued 40 to 50 years ago that did not consider the environmental impact of hydro dams. The old licences were awarded back in the days before the damage to river wildlife was fully understood. Environmental groups have said that during the intervening years, scientific advances have led to a much better understanding of how dams harm river ecosystems.

As these old permits expire, dam owners must seek new federal licences from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), that comply with modern environmental laws and balance power generation with the needs of fisheries, local communities, and recreational users, among others. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 rules gave hydro power dam operators rights to challenge any new river protection measures at quasi-judicial hearings. The hearings allow dam owners to challenge any new measures proposed for fish passage, protecting land along riverbanks, and stopping rivers from running dry.