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Federal Bulk Transmission Environmental Review(9-FD)

A transmission developer needs to consider many environmental issues when developing a high-voltage transmission line project. This section discusses the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and many related environmental topics typically found in a NEPA review document, including:

  • Cultural Resources;
  • Biological Resources;
  • Land Use Assessment;
  • Water Quality;
  • Visual Resources; and
  • Waste & Hazardous Materials.

Environmental Review

NEPA established policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment and outlines the process for implementing these goals within federal agencies. Projects that involve a "major federal action" trigger the NEPA process. Generally, NEPA review is necessary if the project is on federal land, the project receives federal funding or support, or if where the project requires a federal permit.

The level and scope of the NEPA review will vary depending on the nature of the project and the level of involvement by federal agencies. A small amount of project activities may qualify as “casual use” and are otherwise exempt form NEPA review. Other project activities are “categorically excluded” from NEPA review by statute or regulation. Projects may require either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or a more detailed and time-consuming Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Finally, where previous NEPA review of related activities is sufficient, certain project activities may be exempt from NEPA review after a Determination of NEPA Adequacy.

The NEPA process evaluates potential effects of electric transmission projects on environmental resources, such as land use, threatened and endangered species, wetlands, cultural and historic properties, socioeconomics, scenic areas, and other resources. NEPA review takes a “hard look” at the proposed activity by encouraging agency cooperation, soliciting public input and conducting tribal consultation where applicable. NEPA review is conducted by a "lead agency.” A “lead agency" is the federal agency responsible for producing the NEPA document(s) and coordinating with any other federal, state, or tribal agencies. For most projects, the lead agency will be the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the Department of Energy (DOE), the United States Department of Defense (DOD), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). Each agency has specific regulations for implementing NEPA, however, all agencies’ regulations derive from and are guided by the procedural NEPA requirements outlined in the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Regulations.

For any project, developers should initially determine which agency will be the “lead agency” for NEPA review. Developers can start by contacting the applicable land management agency based on the project location. If the applicable land management agency (likely BLM or USFS) is not the lead agency for project NEPA review, the agency will likely be able to assist the developer in determining which other agency is the lead agency for the project. On October 23, 2009, the Department of Energy and eight other Federal agencies entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve coordination among project applicants, federal agencies, states and tribes involved in the siting and permitting process for electric transmission facilities on Federal land. The MOU designates a “Lead Agency” serving as the single point-of-contact for coordinating all federal environmental reviews necessary to site electric transmission facilities on federal lands. Participating agencies include the United States Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Commerce, United States Department of Defense, United States Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the United States Department of Interior.

More Information

Determine Which Federal Permits Apply

Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.

Permitting at a Glance

Environmental Review: National Environmental Policy Act
Environmental Review Agency: United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Energy, United States Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture