Bulk Transmission Environmental Review Overview (9)
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970. The Act 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 will be required to go through the NEPA process if the project involves a "major federal action." 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.
The level and scope of the NEPA review will vary depending on the nature of the project and the level of involvement of the federal government. 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 Department of Energy (DOE), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or the United States Department of Defense (DOD).On top of federal environmental regulation, the developer is required to comply with state environmental laws. Many states have adopted their own environmental laws and regulations.
Environmental Review Overview Process
9.1 - Does the Project Include a Major Federal Action?
For NEPA to be triggered there must be a "major federal action" (action).
Major federal actions tend to fall within one of the following categories:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
9.2 to 9.3 – Is the BLM 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.
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.
If the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the lead agency then the BLM will coordinate the NEPA process.
9.4 to 9.5 – Is the Department of Energy the Lead Agency for the Major Federal Action?
If the Department of Energy (DOE) is the lead agency then it will coordinate the NEPA process.
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.
9.8 to 9.9 - Is the USFS 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.
9.10 to 9.11 - Is the USDA 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.
9.12 – If Necessary, Contact Other Federal Agencies for NEPA Process
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.
9.15 - State Environmental Process
Most states have passed state environmental laws and regulations. Some states have an all-encompassing environmental review process such as California's CEQA process, while other states consider only certain issues.
The state of Alaska has not adopted a state environmental review process.
In California, most development projects must undergo a state environmental review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. For more information, see:
In Hawaii, a project may be required to undergo a state environmental review. For more information, see:
State Environmental Review Process:
Idaho does not have a state-specific environmental review process. For more information, see:
State Environmental Review Process:
Illinois does not have a state-specific environmental review process.
Indiana has a State Environmental Policy Act, but this act does not apply to state agencies in the issuing of permits or licenses. More information on the Indiana Environmental Policy Act can be found in I.C. § 13-2-4 and I.A.C. § 326-16.
Iowa has an optional environmental review that a developer can choose to initiate. The developer may send a request for an environmental review to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources ("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 does not have a state-specific environmental review process.
Michigan does not have a state-specific environmental review process.
In Minnesota, a bulk transmission developer must comply with 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:
Missouri does not have a state-specific environmental review process. However, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) 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 (MDNR) also participates in the NEPA process. Both agencies are able to assist developers in the selection of a project site.
In Montana, a developer’s project may need to comply with the Montana Environmental Policy Act. For more information, see:
Nebraska does not have a state-specific environmental review process.
In Nevada, a developer may need approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada pursuant to the State Utility Environmental Protection Act. For more information, see:
Ohio does not have a state-specific environmental review process.
Currently, the RAPID Toolkit does not have state specific content regarding Oregon’s rules and regulations for the state environmental review process.
In South Dakota, most development projects must undergo a state environmental review pursuant to the South Dakota Environmental Policy Act. For more information, see:
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:
Energy Pre-Design Meeting Process:
In Washington, a developer’s project may need environmental review approval from the relevant state agency pursuant to the Washington State Environmental Policy Act. For more information, see:
In Wisconsin, state agencies must consider environmental impacts of a proposed project in their decision-making process pursuant to the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act (“WEPA”). 1 Wis. Stat. § 1.11. For more information, see:
Currently, the RAPID Toolkit does not have state specific content regarding Wyoming’s rules and regulations for the state environmental review process.
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