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Bulk Transmission On-Site Evaluation Overview (10)

Information current as of 2020
A bulk transmission developer should conduct an onsite evaluation in order to identify land use restrictions, and site-specific resource protection concerns and requirements. The developer should contact the appropriate federal, state, and/or local government entity with jurisdiction for further permit and regulation requirements that might be needed before the approval of any proposed activity.


Typical transmission on-site evaluations include, but are not limited to, biological, ecological, paleontological, archaeological, geological, hydrological, and aesthetic. These evaluations can determine the proposed site's compatibility with the proposed project's operations and impacts. Project site development may be restricted due to the presence of historical artifacts and structures, sacred Indian grounds, threatened or endangered species, and special status of species, among other factors.



On-Site Evaluation Overview Process


10.1 – Conduct Project Site Visit

The appropriate state or local government entity or Indian tribe conducts a site visit to view the location(s) of the proposed project, including associated access roads, and ancillary structures. The appropriate government entity or Indian tribe flags/stakes areas of proposed surface disturbance in order to determine whether any additional environmental and cultural surveys are required.

10.2 to 10.3 – Are There Potential Impacts to Tribes or Cultural Resources?

The developer must evaluate the impact the proposed project may have on tribal and/or cultural resources in order to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), among other regulations. Native American or tribal cultural issues may arise whether the proposed project will be located on or off reservations. Further environmental review is necessary if the evaluation results in a discovery of a possible impact on Tribes and cultural resources.

During construction, the discovery of artifacts, and especially an Indian burial site, must be reported to the state historic preservation office, likely triggering additional regulatory involvement. Section 106 of NHPA requires that all federal agencies take into account the effects of their actions on historic properties. Federal agencies must then provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation with an opportunity to comment on those actions. For more information, see:

Cultural Resource Assessment Overview: 11

10.4 to 10.5 – Are There Potential Impacts to Biological Resources?

The developer must evaluate the impact the proposed project may have on biological resources in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, among other regulations. The presence of endangered species on the site for a project will result in further environmental evaluation being required. Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to conduct a biological assessment to ensure that any actions they undertake do not jeopardize the existence of any listed species. If a listed species or critical habitat is likely to be affected, the agency must provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with an evaluation on the likely effects of the action. (50 CFR 402). This is required for any federal actions that may significantly affect the quality of the human environment.

Biological evaluations may serve multiple purposes, but the primary role is to document an agency’s conclusions and the rationale to support those conclusions regarding the effects of their proposed actions on protected resources. Federal agencies may conduct this Section 7 biological assessment as part of the NEPA analysis. For more information, see:

Biological Resource Assessment Overview: 12

10.6 to 10.7 – Are There Potential Impacts or Restrictions on Land Uses?

The developer must evaluate potential land use restrictions, as well as the impact the proposed project may have on land uses. Pre-existing, existing, and concurrent land uses at and surrounding the site are critical considerations in the early planning stages of the project. Federal and state regulation may prohibit or limit interference with certain land uses. For instance, a developer should consider impacts on nearby airports, military lands, navigable waters, floodplains, wetlands, coastal zones, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) managed structures. If the proposed project impacts land uses, then further environmental review and/or permitting may be required. For more information, see:

Pe-existing Land Use Assessment Overview: 13

10.8 to 10.9 – Are There Potential Water Quality Impacts?

The developer must evaluate the impact the proposed project may have on water quality in order to comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA), among other regulations. Water quality of nearby surface and groundwater must be maintained within state and federal standards during construction and operation of the proposed project. Often both chemical limits and temperature standards are set to ensure safe environments for natural wildlife to thrive.

The CWA establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. For more information, see:

Water Quality Overview: 14

The CWA establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the "waters of the United States" and regulating quality standards for surface waters.

Waters of the United States

"Waters of the United States" is defined by regulation under the Clean Water Rule as developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). “Waters of the United States” is defined to include:

  • The territorial seas, and waters which are currently used, were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
  • Tributaries;
  • Lakes and ponds, and impoundments of jurisdictional waters; and
  • Adjacent wetlands. 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(a).

Tributaries must be perennial or intermittent within a typical year, which the rule defines as a year "when precipitation and other climatic variables are within the normal periodic range for the geographic area of the applicable aquatic resource based on a rolling thirty-year period." 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(c)(13).

"Waters of the United States" do not include:

  • Waters or water features that are not identified in paragraph (a)(1), (2), (3), or (4) of this section;
  • Groundwater, including groundwater drained through subsurface drainage systems;
  • Ephemeral features, including ephemeral streams, swales, gullies, rills, and pools;
  • Diffuse stormwater run-off and directional sheet flow over upland;
  • Ditches that are not waters identified in paragraph (a)(1) or (2) of this section, and those portions of ditches constructed in waters identified in paragraph (a)(4) of this section that do not satisfy the conditions of paragraph (c)(1) of this section;
  • Prior converted cropland;
  • Artificially irrigated areas, including fields flooded for agricultural production, that would revert to upland should application of irrigation water to that area cease;
  • Artificial lakes and ponds, including water storage reservoirs and farm, irrigation, stock watering, and log cleaning ponds, constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters, so long as those artificial lakes and ponds are not impoundments of jurisdictional waters that meet the conditions of paragraph (c)(6) of this section;
  • Water-filled depressions constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters incidental to mining or construction activity, and pits excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters for the purpose of obtaining fill, sand, or gravel;
  • Stormwater control features constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters to convey, treat, infiltrate, or store stormwater run-off;
  • Groundwater recharge, water reuse, and wastewater recycling structures, including detention, retention, and infiltration basins and ponds, constructed or excavated in upland or in non-jurisdictional waters; and
  • Waste treatment systems. 33 C.F.R. § 328.3(b).

Developers should be aware of ongoing litigation on this matter and continue to monitor the issue at the state and national level. For example, the state of Colorado won a preliminary injunction preventing the new WOTUS definition going into effect in the state. The EPA provides up-to-date information on the Environmental Protection Agency - Clean Water Rule Website.


10.10 to 10.11 – Are There Potential Impacts to Air Quality?

The developer must evaluate the impact the proposed project may have on air quality in order to comply with the Clean Air Act, among other regulations. Developers are required to comply with state drafted rules used to implement the federal Clean Air Act at the state level. The developer must evaluate the proposed project’s impacts on air quality to determine if air pollution may result. If the evaluation reveals that air pollution impacts will result from the project, then the project may require further examination and an air quality permit. For more information, see:

Air Quality Assessment Overview: 15

10.12 to 10.13 – Are There Potential Impacts to Soils, Geological, or Paleontological Resources?

The developer must evaluate the impact the proposed project may have on soils, geological, and paleontological resources. The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act outlines the requirements for obtaining a permit to collect paleontological resources on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. For more information, see:

Geological Resources Assessment Overview: 16


10.14 to 10.15 – Are There Potential Impacts to Aesthetic or Recreational Resources?

The developer must evaluate the impact the proposed project may have on aesthetic and recreational resources in order to comply with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, among other regulations. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed with the purpose to protect rivers of a particular scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values from impact on their free-flowing condition. The project site must be evaluated to determine if the project will impact any river designated for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System or authorized by Congress as a study river under Section 5(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The developer must evaluate the project site to determine if the project will impact any of these rivers. If the project impacts a designated river, then further environment review and/or approval may be required. It also may impede the developer's ability to get a license to construct transmission lines or other project works. The developer should also consult the applicable state laws dealing with aesthetic resources. For more information, see:

Aesthetic and Recreational Resources Assessment Overview: 17

10.16 to 10.17 – Will the Project Generate, Treat, Store, or Dispose of Waste and/or Hazardous Materials?

The developer must evaluate proposed project to determine if the project will generate, treat, store, or dispose of waste and/or hazardous materials. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is authorized to manage hazardous waste through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The developer should consider the use of underground and aboveground storage tanks, production of hazardous waste, and disposal of solid wastes produced as a result of the project. If the project will generate, treat, store, or dispose of waste and/or hazardous materials, then the developer may be required to obtain a permit or go through further environmental review. For more information, see:

Waste and Hazardous Material Assessment Overview: 18

10.18 – Consider Other Project Impacts

Through an on-site evaluation, the developer should consider other proposed project impacts. While the above narrative covers the most frequent considerations, there may be other project impacts to floodplains, river corridors, environment justice concerns, etc. For example, the EPA has a policy of promoting environmental justice: involving the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people involved regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In practice, this policy serves to ensure that minority and/or lower income communities are not disproportionately affected adversely by negative externalities of environmental projects. For example, constructing numerous waste facilities in a predominantly low-income community, where that community did not receive fair treatment or meaningful involvement in the process, would likely violate the EPA's policy of environmental justice. For more information, see the EPA Environmental Justice website.

In addition, the United States Department of Interior has set forth an Environmental Justice Vision statement setting forth a goal, "To provide outstanding management of the natural and cultural resources entrusted to us in a manner that is sustainable, equitable, accessible, and inclusive of all populations" (see DOI Environmental Justice Strategic Plan). The plan prioritizes consideration of minority, low-income, and tribal populations.

A developer may also need to consider the presence of flood plains within or near the project location. Under Executive Order 11988, each federal agency is required to take action to reduce the risk of flood loss, to minimize the impact of floods on human safety, health, and welfare, and to restore and preserve the values of floodplains. If a proposed project is located within a floodplain, then federal agencies are required to take specific actions during environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. For example, the federal agency will be required to consider alternatives to avoid adverse effects and incompatible development in floodplain areas.

10.19 – Continue with Project