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Bulk Transmission Environmental Review Overview (9)

A bulk transmission developer may need to comply with state and federal environmental review processes. A typical bulk transmission project will raise environmental issues that require permitting and/or regulatory approval from federal and state agencies. The environmental law in the United States is governed by federal law that is administered by both federal and state agencies, as well as state environmental laws that either complement federal law or go above and beyond it.


The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970. NEPA establishes national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment and provides a process for implementing these goals within the federal agencies. A developer must go through the NEPA process if the project involves a "major federal action." The level and scope of the NEPA review will vary depending on the nature of the project and to what degree the federal government will be involved. Some actions and projects will receive a categorical exclusion while others may require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

NEPA review is handled by a "lead agency." A “lead agency" is the federal agency responsible for writing the main NEPA document(s) and coordinating with any other federal, state, or tribal agencies.

For most projects relating to bulk transmission projects, the lead agency will be the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or the United States Department of Defense (DOD).

A “cooperating agency” means any federal, state, local, or tribal agency other than a lead agency which has jurisdiction by law or special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved in a proposal (or a reasonable alternative) for legislation or other major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. For example, where FERC is the lead agency for purposes of completing the NEPA process for bulk transmission development on federal land, other federal agencies with jurisdiction or special expertise take on the role of a cooperating agency.

To comply with federal environmental regulation, the developer is also required to comply with state environmental laws. Many states have adopted their own environmental laws and regulations.

Potential environmental impacts from bulk transmission development that may occur during the site evaluation, construction, and operation phases of the project include:

  • Vehicle emissions, volatile organic compound (VOC) releases from storage and transfer of vehicle/equipment fuels, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates from blasting activities, and fugitive dust from clearing, grading, excavating, and vehicle and equipment traffic;
  • Noise disturbances from drilling, blasting, vehicle traffic, turbine, generator, and transformer can impact migration, feeding, and reproduction patterns in species;
  • Direct and indirect impacts to cultural resources from surface disturbances or excavation, erosion, sedimentation, increased human access can increase exposure to contaminants, and interfere with behavioral activities of species;
  • Direct and indirect impacts to ecological resources (vegetation, wildlife, aquatic biota and their habitats) from introduction of invasive species from vehicle traffic, fugitive dust, erosion and runoff from excavation can limit a plant’s ability to photosynthesize, and impact habitats. Construction of roads and transmission rights-of-way can fragment wildlife habitats affecting feeding and reproduction behaviors; and
  • Water quality could also be affected by activities that cause soil erosion, which could increase turbidity and suspended sediment transport.

Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development – Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Website.

The President of the United States issued Executive Order 13807 – Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure (One Federal Decision) on August 15, 2017 with the goal of streamlining federal infrastructure decisions and promoting economic efficiency by requiring federal agencies to streamline environmental reviews and authorizations. Specifically, One Federal Decision requires:

  • Authorization decisions to be reduced to not more than an average of 2 years;
  • Designation of a lead Federal agency for each infrastructure project that is responsible for leading the project through the Federal environmental NEPA review and authorization process;
  • All agency decisions to be recorded in one Record of Decision (ROD) (with some exceptions) prepared by the lead agency; and
  • Federal authorization decisions for the construction of a major infrastructure project to be completed within 90 days of the issuance of the ROD.

If the EA does not support a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), the lead agency must prepare a EIS and issue a ROD before acting on the proposed action addressed by the EA.

Following issuance of One Federal Decision twelve agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (see Memorandum of Understanding Implementing One Federal Decision Under Executive Order 13807). In part, the MOU states that for each major infrastructure project, agencies will work together to develop a single permitting timetable for the necessary environmental review and authorization decisions, prepare a single EIS, and sign a single ROD. In furtherance of the MOU, each signatory agency has prepared further guidance to clarify specific procedures. Significant clarity will be added to this process as these guidance materials become available.


Environmental Review Overview Process

9.1 – Does the Project Require a Major Federal Action?

For the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to be triggered there must be a "major federal action" (action).

Major federal actions tend to fall within one of the following categories:

  1. Adoption of official policy, such as rules, regulations, and interpretations adopted pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq.; treaties and international conventions or agreements; formal documents establishing an agency's policies which will result in or substantially alter agency programs.
  2. Adoption of formal plans, such as official documents prepared or approved by federal agencies which guide or prescribe alternative uses of Federal resources, upon which future agency actions will be based.
  3. Adoption of programs, such as a group of concerted actions to implement a specific policy or plan; systematic and connected agency decisions allocating agency resources to implement a specific statutory program or executive directive.
  4. Approval of specific projects, such as construction or management activities located in a defined geographic area. Projects include actions approved by permit or other regulatory decision as well as federal and federally assisted activities.

Major federal actions include new and continuing activities, including projects and programs entirely or partly financed, assisted, conducted, regulated, or approved by federal agencies; new or revised agency rules, regulations, plans, policies, or procedures; and legislative proposals (NEPA § 1506.8, 1508.17). Actions do not include funding assistance solely in the form of general revenue sharing funds, distributed under the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972, 31 U.S.C. 1221 et seq., with no federal agency control over the subsequent use of such funds. Actions do not include bringing judicial or administrative civil or criminal enforcement actions.

In general, NEPA will be triggered if the project is on federal land, the federal government owns the mineral estate, the project receives federal funding or support, or if a federal permit is required.

See 40 CFR 1508.18 Major Federal Action.

9.2 to 9.3 – Is the Bureau of Land Management the Lead Agency for the Major Federal Action?

Under NEPA a “lead agency” is the agency preparing NEPA documentation or is the agency that has taken primary responsibility for coordinating the NEPA process. If the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the lead agency then the BLM will coordinate the NEPA process. For more information, see:

Bureau of Land Management - NEPA Review:
9-FD-a


9.4 to 9.5 – Is the Department of Energy the Lead Agency for the Major Federal Action?

If the United States Department of Energy (DOE) is the lead agency then it will coordinate the NEPA process. For more information, see:

Department of Energy - NEPA Review:
9-FD-e

9.6 to 9.7 – Is the Department of Defense the Lead Agency for the Major Federal Action?

If the Department of Defense (DOD) is the lead agency then it will coordinate the NEPA process. For more information, see:

Department of Defense - NEPA Review:
9-FD-f

9.8 to 9.9 – Is the U.S. Forest Service the Lead Agency for the Major Federal Action?

If the United States Forest Service (USFS) is the lead agency then it will coordinate the NEPA process. For more information, see:

U.S. Forest Service -NEPA Review:
9-FD-g

9.10 to 9.11 – Is the U.S. Department of Agriculture the Lead Agency for the Major Federal Action?

If the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the lead agency for a bulk transmission, then the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) will coordinate the NEPA process. For more information, see:

Rural Utilities Service - NEPA Review:
9-FD-h

9.12 – Contact Other Federal Agency for NEPA Review

If another federal agency is the lead agency for the major federal action then the developer will be required to contact that agency for its NEPA policies and procedures.

9.13 to 9.14 – Has an On-Site Evaluation Been Conducted?

The on-site evaluation process is intended to walk the developer through all of the required "environmental" considerations of a typical environmental review under NEPA. For more information, see:

On-Site Evaluation Overview: 10 (1)

9.15 – Initiate State Environmental Review

Most states have passed state environmental laws and regulations. Some states have an all-encompassing environmental review process such as the California Environmental Quality Act process, while other states consider only certain issues.


Alabama

Currently, the RAPID Toolkit does not have state specific content regarding environmental review for bulk transmission projects in Alabama.

Alaska

Alaska does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Arizona

Arizona does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Arkansas

Arkansas does not have a state specific environmental review process.

California

In California, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-CA-a

Colorado

Colorado does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Connecticut

Connecticut does have a state specific environmental review process, but it only applies to activities undertaken by state or funded in whole or in part by the state.

Delaware

Delaware does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Florida

Florida does not have a state specific environmental review process for bulk transmission development.

Georgia

Georgia has a State Environmental Policy Act, but it does not apply to bulk transmission projects. OCGA § 12-16-1.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the state’s environmental review regulations. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-HI-a

Idaho

Idaho does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Illinois

Illinois does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Indiana

Indiana has a state specific environmental review process, but it may not apply to bulk transmission projects. For more information on the State Environmental Policy Act, see: I.C. § 13-2-4 and I.A.C. § 326-16.

Iowa

In Iowa, a bulk transmission developer may choose to comply with the state’s optional environmental process regulated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The developer may send a request for an environmental review to the IDNR, and IDNR will conduct an environmental review. The developer should include any pertinent details about the project in the request. More information on Iowa's developer-initiated environmental review process can be found on IDNR's Environmental Review for Natural Resources Website.

Kansas

Kansas does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Kentucky

Kentucky does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Louisiana

Louisiana does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Maine

Maine does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Maryland

Maryland does have a state specific environmental review process, but it only applies to requests for legislative appropriations or other legislative actions that will alter the quality of the air, land, or water resources. Maryland – MD. Code Ann., Natural Resources §§ 1-3 et seq., Maryland Environmental Policy Act.

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (M.G.L. c. 30 § 61 et seq. (1972)) . For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-MA-a

Michigan

Michigan does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act. The scope of the environmental review depends on the size of the project and the lead agency in charge. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-MN-a

Mississippi

Mississippi does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Missouri

Missouri does not have a state specific environmental review process. However, the Missouri Department of Conservation may review and provide comments on a proposed project under NEPA, as well as other federal laws and programs, such as the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources also participates in the NEPA process. Both agencies are able to assist developers in the selection of a project site.

Montana

In Montana, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the Montana Environmental Policy Act. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-MT-a

Nebraska

Nebraska does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Nevada

In Nevada, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the State Utility Environmental Protection Act. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-NV-a

New Hampshire

New Hampshire does not have a state specific environmental review process.

New Jersey

New Jersey does have a state specific environmental review process, but it only applies to projects directly initiated or funded by the state.

New Mexico

New Mexico does not have a state specific environmental review process.

New York

In New York, a bulk transmission project may be subject to review pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-NY-a

North Carolina

North Carolina has a State Environmental Policy Act, but it does not apply to bulk transmission projects. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 113A-1–113A-20 and N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 113A-118.

North Dakota

North Dakota does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Ohio

Ohio does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Oklahoma

Currently, the RAPID Toolkit does not have state specific content regarding environmental review for bulk transmission projects in Oklahoma.

Oregon

Oregon does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island does not have a state specific environmental review process. However, a developer may need to obtain various permits and approval from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management prior to initiating construction of a bulk transmission project.

South Carolina

Currently, the RAPID Toolkit does not have state specific content regarding environmental review for bulk transmission projects in South Carolina.

South Dakota

In South Dakota, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the South Dakota Environmental Policy Act. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-SD-a

Tennessee

Tennessee does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Texas

Texas does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Utah

Utah does not have a mandatory state environmental review process for development projects. However, a developer may utilize the optional Energy Pre-Design Meeting process to coordinate permitting requirements from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-UT-a

Vermont

Vermont does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Virginia

Virginia does have a state environmental review process, but it only applies to state owned projects and state funded projects.

Washington

In Washington, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the Washington State Environmental Policy Act. For more information, see:

State Environmental Overview:
9-WA-a

West Virginia

West Virginia does not have a state specific environmental review process.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, a bulk transmission project is subject to review pursuant to the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act. 1 Wis. Stat. § 1.11. For more information, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-WI-a

Wyoming

Currently, the RAPID Toolkit does not have state specific content regarding environmental review for bulk transmission projects in Wyoming.