RAPID/Solar/Federal/Land Use

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Federal Solar Land Use Planning(1-FD)

Solar projects on federal land must be consistent with the applicable Land Use Plan (LUP). Most federal lands are managed either by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service (USFS). The BLM’s land use planning authority is found in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and many other public laws. FLPMA requires the BLM to develop and maintain LUPs called Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that cover individual planning units. The USFS’ land use planning authority is found in the National Forest Management Act of 1976. The LUPs, called Land Management Plans (LMPs), are prepared and implemented for each National Forest.

BLM: On BLM managed land, regulations governing RMP development and revision can be found in 14 CFR 1610 et seq.. Generally, new solar projects sited on BLM managed land require an amendment, not a revision. Revisions have more procedural requirements, including preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). 43 CFR 1610.2. Amendments may not require an EIS where a Categorical Exclusion (CE) applies or an Environmental Assessment (EA) and subsequent Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) suffice. If an EIS is required, the amendment process is identical to the revision process.

In 2012, the BLM issued a record of decision (ROD) for the solar programmatic environmental impact statement (SPEIS) that created a Solar Energy Program for six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The SPEIS amended all 89 RMPs. Solar projects sited within the RMP areas affected by the SPEIS will not require a revision or an amendment. Solar projects sited outside of the RMP areas affected by the SPEIS may require an amendment.

USFS: The USFS must develop, revise and amend LMPs for units of the National Forest System (NFS). 16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq. 36 CFR 219.15(d) requires all projects and activities approved on USFS-managed land to be consistent with the applicable LMP. If a solar project is not consistent with the applicable LMP, a revision may be required. A revision replaces the current LMP for the applicable land unit, while an amendment adds, modifies or removes one or more plan components. As a practical matter, most solar projects on USFS managed land will require an amendment, not a revision.

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Determine Which Federal Permits Apply

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