Bulk Transmission Environment in Washington
At a Glance
|Environmental Review Process:||The Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires all governmental agencies to consider the environmental impacts of a proposal before making decisions.|
|Environmental Review Agency:||Washington Department of Natural Resources|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Leasing Stage):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Non-invasive Exploration):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Invasive Exploration):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Drilling):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Power Plant Siting):|
|Contacts/Agencies:||Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife|
State Environment Process
Washington State Environmental Policy Act Process
The Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires all governmental agencies to consider the environmental impacts of a proposal before making decisions. A transmission project will be subject to SEPA if a state or local agency decision is necessary for their project. The developer’s project may be covered by a categorical exemption for which SEPA review is not required. A lead agency must be chosen to comply with SEPA’s procedural requirements for the project. The lead agency is determined using the criteria outlined in WAC 197-11-926 through WAC 197-11-944. If the developer’s project is covered by an existing state environmental document or a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document, then the developer will be given the opportunity to adopt the existing document. Developers may also conduct NEPA and SEPA review simultaneously.
Developers must complete an Environmental Checklist and submit it to the lead agency. The Environmental Checklist assists the lead agency in determining whether the proposal will likely result in negative impacts on the environment. The following environmental elements are included in the checklist:
- Water (surface and ground)
- Energy and Natural Resources
- Environmental Health
- Land and Shoreline Use
- Light and Glare
- Historic and Cultural Preservation
- Public Services
Following the lead agency’s review of the Environmental Checklist, either a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) or a Determination of Significance (DS) will be issued. If the lead agency determines that the project will not have a probable adverse impact on the environment, then the lead agency will complete a DNS.  The lead agency will provide public notice of the DNS, and the developer may be required to participate in a public hearing.
If the lead agency determines that the project will have a probable adverse impact on the environment, then an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be required. The lead agency must conduct a scoping analysis to narrow the scope of the EIS to the probable significant adverse impacts and reasonable alternatives, including mitigation measures. The lead agency will develop a draft EIS, and make the draft available for public comment. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing. The lead agency will then issue a final EIS following review of all comments.
Cultural Resource Assessment
The Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) works with agencies, tribes, private citizens, and developers to identify and develop protection strategies for cultural resources. As part of the Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act process, agencies must consult with DAHP to assure that cultural resources are identified, and to obtain the formal opinion of DAHP on each site’s significance and the impacts of its action upon the site. Under SEPA, DAHP provides formal opinions to local governments and other state agencies on a site’s significance and the impact of proposed projects upon such sites. Additional information regarding compliance with federal and state laws is available on the DAHP website.
Developers must comply with Washington state law when human remains or other cultural resources are discovered on the project site. The discovery of cultural resources may require obtaining a permit and providing public notice and notice to Indian Tribes. In Washington, every person has a duty to notify the coroner upon the discovery of any human remains in the most expeditious manner possible. Developers must immediately cease all ground-disturbing activity upon discovery of human remains. The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation handles the disposition of non-forensic remains, while the county coroner handles the disposition of forensic remains. If the remains are determined to be non-forensic, then DAHP must make a determination as to whether the remains are Indian or non-Indian. If the remains are Indian, then local tribes must be given notice and must be allowed to oversee the administration of the remains.
Developers must obtain an Archaeological Excavation Permit from DAHP before removal of archaeological or historic artifacts discovered on the project site. Developers must submit a permit application to DAHP for review. DAHP must then provide public notice of the application, and allow for public comment. An Archaeological Excavation Permit will only be issued following full consideration of all public comments. 
Biological Resource Assessment Process
In Washington, it is unlawful to take wildlife without permission from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  According to Revised Code of Washington 77.08.010 (67) "to take" and its derivatives means to kill, injure, harvest, or capture a fish, shellfish, wild animal, bird, or seaweed". Developers will be required to obtain a Live Wildlife Taking Permit before taking any wildlife. Developers proposing projects located on or affecting land within a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) must adhere to requirements of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WSDNR).
Developers must obtain a Live Wildlife Taking Permit from the WDFW before taking any wildlife from the project site. If the project will impact a protected species, then the developer will be required to work with WDFW to address impact issues. Endangered species are listed in WAC 232-12-014. State endangered, threatened, and sensitive species are all listed on the WDFW’s website. WDFW will consider any request for a permit by investigating the project area and any impacted wildlife. If WDFW determines that that the project will negatively impact a listed species, then they will consult with a specialist on the species to determine whether it can be removed from the location.
Developers must comply with the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in Washington if the project is located within an HCP-controlled area. Developers are responsible for determining whether the project area is included in the lands covered by the HCP. WSDNR must ensure that the HCP goals may be accomplished if the land is used, leased, or sold. This requires a review of the HCP strategies and objectives.
Water Resource Assessment
Developers may be required to obtain several permits related to water quality issues, including permits for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting and Section 401 water quality certification.
Developers must obtain a NPDES Permit from the Washington State Department of Ecology (WSDE) if their project will result in the discharge of pollutants to the waters of Washington from any point source. No pollutants may be discharged to the waters of Washington from any point source, except as authorized by an Individual Permit issued pursuant to WAC 173-220, or as authorized through coverage under a General Permit pursuant to WAC 173-226. A project may qualify for either an Individual NPDES Permit or for a General NPDES Permit. An individual permit is written for a specific discharge at a specific location. An individual permit is highly tailored to regulate the pollutants in the discharge. A general permit is for a group of similar dischargers at diverse locations. Once issued, a general permit may cover many facilities quickly and efficiently. A general permit is appropriate when the characteristics of the discharge are similar and a standard set of permit requirements can effectively provide environmental protection. If the project will involve clearing, grading and/or excavating that will result in the disturbance of one or more acres and discharges stormwater to surface waters, then the developer must obtain a Construction Stormwater General Permit from WSDE. WSDE can also require a construction stormwater permit for any size construction activity discharging storm water into surface waters if the activity is a significant contributor of pollutants to Washington waters, and WSDE reasonably expects that the project will result in a violation of state water quality standards.
Developers requiring a Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit, which covers impacts to wetlands and other waters of the United States and is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are required to obtain a Section 401 Water Quality Certification from WSDE. WSDE will review the project to ensure that it will comply with state water quality standards and other aquatic resource protection requirements. Section 401 Water Quality Certification can cover both the construction and operation of the proposed project. In Washington, a single application has been developed to streamline the permitting process for a selection of water-related approvals including Section 401 Water Quality Certification. Developers are required to submit a Joint Aquatic Resource Permit Application (JARPA) and associated documents to WSDE for review.
Air Quality Assessment Process
Air quality permits applicable to transmission line construction and operation were not identified for the state of Washington; however, applicants should review federal, state, and local laws and regulations for air quality permits or compliance that may be applicable to each individual project such as construction permits or fugitive dust plans.
Electric and Magnetic Field Regulations
Electric and magnetic fields (EMF) are invisible areas of energy that surround any electrical device including transmission lines, electrical wiring, and household appliances. Most medical experts and other scientific peer reviews of the more than 30 years of conducted research agree there is no conclusive evidence of harmful effects from exposure to EMF nor has there been a demonstrated biological mechanism that links EMF exposure to a disease. EMF Electric Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power: Questions and Answers brochure contains more information regarding EMF.
Although the State of Washington has no known magnetic field regulations, local governments may have regulations relating to EMF standards.
Developers should be aware that the potential effects of transmission projects on visual resources has been a challenge in siting transmission facilities. Transmission line projects may cause visual contrast within the landscapes they cross due to their length, size and the regular geometric forms of the transmission towers. These projects may affect sensitive viewers (i.e., residents, recreationist, etc.) located along the right-of-way.
Analysis of impacts to visual resources as a result of a transmission line project may be required as part of a federal, state or local permitting process. For example, at the federal level, a project required to go through the NEPA process must evaluate impacts to visual resources. In addition, some public agencies have requirements or provide guidelines for evaluating and assessing impacts to visual resources for projects that cross their jurisdiction. For example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have developed methodologies for inventorying visual resources and assessing visual impacts on lands under their respective jurisdictions.
As noted under the Washington State Environmental Policy Act Process, aesthetic resources are evaluated as part of the state’s Environmental Checklist. The purpose of the Environmental Checklist is to provide information to help applicants and agencies identify impacts from the project proposal (and to reduce or avoid impacts from the proposal, if it can be done) and to help the agency decide whether an Environmental Impact State is required. According to the Environmental Checklist the applicant must address the following as they apply to aesthetics:
- What is the tallest height of any proposed structure(s), not including antennas; what is the principal exterior building material(s) proposed?
- What views in the immediate vicinity would be altered or obstructed?
- Proposed measures to reduce or control aesthetic impacts, if any:
The Environmental Checklist does not include specific or required guidelines or methodologies for determining impacts to aesthetics.
Developers should also review local government resource management plans, comprehensive plans, regulations, etc. to identify any permit requirements as they relate to visual/aesthetic resources.
Waste and Hazardous Material Assessment Process
Developers must obtain a Dangerous Solid Waste Permit from WSDE if they handle dangerous solid wastes and they are classified as a generator, transporter, or any other classification listed in WAC 173-303-020. Transmission line developers generally do not generate a significant amount of dangerous solid waste, however, they must adhere to this process in the limited scenarios where they do generate such waste. Developers dealing with wastes categorized as “dangerous wastes” under WAC 173-303-070 will be required to obtain a Dangerous Solid Waste Permit. Developers must submit a Demonstration of Compliance with Siting Criteria, then an application to WSDE for review. WSDE must provide public notice of any decision on the application, and allow for public comment.  Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing. 
Local Environment Process
Most often in the state of Washington transmission line siting and permitting is conducted at the local level. The local regulatory authorities include counties and incorporated city governments. Local government permitting requirements, including environmental reviews, may apply.
Policies & Regulations
- An Introduction to Electric Power Transmission
- CHAT: Crucial Habitat Assessment Tools
- EPA - Rainfall Erosivity Factor Calculator webpage
- EPA - UIC Well Classifications
- Environmental Recommendations for Transmission Planning
- WSDE Air Operating Permit Application and Instructions
- WSDE Air Operating Permits Register Entries webpage
- WSDE Class V Wells that Automatically Meet Non-Endangerment Standard
- WSDE Nationwide Permit webpage
- WSDE Online System for Registering UIC Wells webpage
- WSDE Permit Application Forms webpage
- WSDE Underground Injection Control Well Registration Form
- WSDE Underground Storage Tank Program webpage
- Washington Air Quality Notice of Construction Permit Regulatory Handbook
- Washington Coastal Zone Management Regulatory Handbook
- Washington Coastal Zone Management Webpage
- Washington Department of Ecology SEPA Online Handbook
- Washington Energy Facility Site Evalutation Council - Siting and Review Process
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - 401 Water Quality Certification
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - Air Operating Permit
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - Dangerous Waste Treatment Storage Disposal Facility New Permit
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - NPDES Construction Stormwater General Permit
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - NPDES General Permit Coverage
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - NPDES Individual Permit Coverage
- Washington Environmental Permit Handbook - Underground Injection Control Registration webpage
- Washington Notice of Construction Application under New Source Review (Form ECY 070-410)
- Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board webpage
- Washington Priority Habitats and Species on the Web
- Washington State Department of Ecology Designated Uses for Waters of the State
- Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Draft Fishway Guidelines for Washington State
- Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Draft Hydroelectric Project Assessment Guidelines
- Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Draft Mitigation Policy
- Washington State Environmental Policy Act Form Templates
- Washington State Priority Habitats and Species List
- Washington State Species of Concern Lists
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 305
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 965
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 330
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 970
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 535
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 360
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 408
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 535(2)
- WAC 197-11 SEPA Rules (1984). 460
- RCW - 68.50 Human Remains (1963). 645(3)(d)
- WAC - 25-48 Archaeological Excavation and Removal Permit (2006). 080(3)
- WAC - 232-12-064 Live Wildlife-Taking from the wild (1981). (1)
- WAC - 173-303 Dangerous Waste Regulations (2009). 282(4)(d)
- WAC - 173-303 Dangerous Waste Regulations (2009). 282(4)(d)(ii)(B)