Geothermal 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):||Permits from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for drilling for which no public hearing is required under RCW 79.76.070 are exempted from SEPA requirements (geothermal test drilling). WAC 197-11-830.|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Drilling):||Permits from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for drilling for which no public hearing is required under RCW 79.76.070 are exempted from SEPA requirements (geothermal test drilling). WAC 197-11-830.|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Power Plant Siting):||SEPA environmental review|
|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 geothermal 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. WAC 197-11-305. For example, permits from the Washington Department of Natural Resources for drilling for which no public hearing is required under RCW 78.60.070 are exempted from SEPA requirements (geothermal test drilling). WAC 197-11-830. 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. WAC 197-11-965. 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. 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. WAC 197-11-330. 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 WAC 197-11-970. The lead agency will provide public notice of the DNS, and the developer may be required to participate in a public hearing. WAC 197-11-535.
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. WAC 197-11-360. 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. WAC 197-11-408. 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. WAC 197-11-535(2). The lead agency will then issue a final EIS following review of all comments. WAC 197-11-460.
Cultural Resource Assessment
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.
Developers must comply with specified procedures when human remains are found on the project site. 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. RCW 68.50.645(3)(d).
Developers must obtain an Archaeological Excavation Permit from DAHP before removal of archaeological or historic artifacts discovered on the project site. “Cultural resources” are defined as archaeological and historical sites and artifacts, and traditional areas or items of religious, ceremonial and social uses to affected tribes. “Archaeological resources” are any material remains of human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, including all sites, objects, structures, artifacts, implements, and locations of pre-historical or archaeological interest. WAC 25-48-020. 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. WAC 25-48-080(3).
Biological Resource Assessment Process
In Washington, it is unlawful to take wildlife without permission from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). 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 Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (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 NPDES compliance, underground injection control, 401 quality certification, and wastewater discharge.
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 must obtain an Underground Injection Control (UIC) Permit or register any underground injection control well necessary for the project. WSDE regulates and permits UIC wells in Washington. The majority of UIC wells are authorized by rule and do not require a formal permit, however, the developer must register the well and comply with Washington’s Non-endangerment Standard. Developers must submit required information to WSDE including a technical description of the well and the injection fluids, a facility description, and the longitude and latitude of the well. If the UIC well does not qualify for authorization by rule the developer will have to contact the WSDE for permitting procedures and applications. When a UIC Permit is required, the developer must also obtain a NPDES Waste Discharge Permit or State Wastewater Discharge Permit. WAC 173-216 or WAC 173-226.
Developers requiring a Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit from 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. 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 401 Water Quality Certification. Developers are required to submit a Joint Aquatic Resource Permit Application (JARPA) and associated documents to WSDE for review.
Developers must obtain a State Wastewater Discharge Permit from WSDE if their facilities will discharge wastewater pollutants to land. Industrial facilities that discharge wastewater to privately or publicly owned wastewater treatment plants must also obtain a State Wastewater Discharge Permit unless it has obtained a pretreatment discharge permit issued by a delegated municipality. The developer’s project may qualify for an exemption from permitting requirements outlined in WAC 173-216-050. Wastewater Discharge Permits must contain conditions that ensure a discharge will meet established water quality standards. Developers are responsible for providing public notice and seeking comments from interested and potentially interested persons. WAC 173-216-090(1).
Air Quality Assessment Process
In Washington, developers may be required to obtain multiple air quality permits for their project. If the project requires both an Air Operating Permit and an Air Quality Construction Permit, then the developer may enter a consolidated permitting process using the requirements for an Air Operating Permit. WAC 173-400-111(2).
Developers must obtain a Notice of Construction (NOC) air quality permit from WSDE to construct or modify any building, structure, facility, or installation that may increase the amount of any air contaminant emitted by such source or results in the emission of any air contaminant not previously emitted. Construction of a new emissions unit that has the potential to emit less than each of the levels listed in WAC 173-400-110(5) is exempt from new source review. Developers must submit a Notice of Construction Application to WSDE for review. WSDE is required to provide a public notice and comment period before approving or denying certain types of permits outlined in WAC 173-400-171. If the permit is approved, then the developer must comply with all conditions attached to it and pay necessary fees. WAC 173-400-111(9)&(10).
Developers must obtain an Air Operating Permit from WSDE if their facility has the potential to emit any of the following: more than 100 tons per year of any pollutant, more than 10 tons per year of any hazardous air pollutant, or more than 25 tons per year of a combination of hazardous air pollutants. Developers must submit an application for an Air Operating Permit to WSDE within 12 months of becoming subject to the permit program. WAC 173-401-500(3)(c). Following submission of a complete application, WSDE will issue a draft permit, provide public notice, and allow for public comment. WAC 173-401-800. WSDE will conduct a public hearing if it is requested. WAC 173-401-800(5). WSDE will issue a final Air Operating Permit for a fixed term of five years. Developers will be required to pay an annual fee and comply with annual reporting of emissions. WAC 173-401-610.
Waste and Hazardous Material Assessment Process
If the developer’s project requires installation of an underground storage tank, then they will be required to obtain approval from WSDE. Developers may also be required to obtain a Dangerous Solid Waste Permit if their project involves dangerous solid wastes as defined in WAC 173-303-070 through WAC 173-303-100.
Developers must obtain an Underground Storage Tank (UST) Permit from WSDE prior to operating an underground storage tank system. Washington defines an “underground storage tank” as any one or combination of tanks (including underground pipes connected thereto) that is used to contain an accumulation of regulated substances, and the volume of which (including the volume of underground pipes) is ten percent or more beneath the surface of the ground. Certain UST systems are exempt from permitting requirements. Exempted systems are identified in WAC 173-360-110(2). Developers must submit a UST 30-day Notice Form to WSDE with payment of the applicable fee at least thirty days and not more than 90 days before installing the UST system. WAC 173-360-200. If WSDE approves the notice, then an Underground Storage Tank System Permit will be issued, and installation may begin. Developers will be required to complete the Business License Application and Underground Storage Tank Addendum and submit the forms to the Washington State Department of Revenue.
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. Geothermal 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. In addition, geothermal developers may be exempted from certain requirements of this process if they qualify as a “small quantity generator.” WAC 173-303-070(8). 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. WAC 173-303-282(4)(d). Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing. WAC 173-303-282(4)(d)(ii)(B).
Local Environment Process
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