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LETTER: Governors reiterate need for 'substantial' state role in regional review of Section 386 corridors

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October 13, 2016
 
Neil Kornze, Director
Bureau of Land Management
U.S. Department of the Interior
Mailstop 2134 LM
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
 
Dear Director Kornze:
 
We write to follow up on the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) May 17, 2016 letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) regarding the federal strategy and timeline for undertaking regional review of West-wide energy corridor designations mandated by Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05). (1) USFS responded in a letter dated July 7, 2016. Governors have yet to receive a written response from BLM.
 
In an August 25, 2016 webinar for WGA (and in a public invitation to participate in regional reviews), BLM did provide details on how regional reviews will be conducted and what opportunities for stakeholder engagement are planned. (2) The process for each regional review includes formal notification to stakeholders (defined to include Governors of states within the region) of public meetings and webinars during which they may provide feedback on corridor designations.
 
Western Governors appreciate these efforts to provide information to stakeholders. Relative to Governors’ involvement, however, the proposed process falls short of the meaningful and substantial involvement that states expect (3) and for which Governors have been asking since 2013. (4)
 
Governors and appropriate state regulators oversee the provision of energy within their state’s boundaries. Accordingly, WGA has long worked on a number of issues related to the corridor designation effort, including: evaluation of renewable energy potential, impacts of corridor use on the transmission grid, and transmission permitting efficiency. Governors also have a stake in the impacts of corridor designations on their duties to protect and manage species and water supplies.
 
Interagency Workgroup
 
The effort to make infrastructure permitting more efficient provides an opportunity to establish a new paradigm for state-federal cooperation. To facilitate this cooperation, Western Governors have requested a role in any working group established to examine or delineate corridors. (5) We appreciate USFS’ indication that WGA, individual Governor’s offices and state regulators will be invited to participate in the Interagency Workgroup, led by BLM and including representatives from USFS and the Department of Energy, that is conducting the regional reviews of West-wide energy corridors.
 
To help facilitate that involvement, we request the following information:
  • Who specifically will participate in the workgroup, how will it be organized and how will it function? How will WGA, Governors’ offices and state regulators be integrated into the workgroup?
  • What specific tasks does each party, including WGA, Governors’ offices and state regulators, need to complete and when?
  • Will the workgroup have the authority to issue recommendations for corridor revisions at the conclusion of the regional review process?
  • What tools will be developed to encourage project proponents to seek utilization of the corridors once designated (see more on this issue below)?
Making Corridor Designations Meaningful
 
Designation of corridors will be in vain if tools are not integrated on the front end of the corridor revision process to make siting of energy facilities within corridors attractive to project proponents. Grid expansion and modernization are essential to reliable electricity transmission in the West and to effectively utilize the full suite of western energy resources: key energy policy priorities for Western Governors. (6) In WGA’s 10-Year Energy Vision for the West, (7) Western Governors voice their support for the goal of completing the siting and permitting of projects within three years of submission of a completed application.
 
To help developers and the public better understand and navigate overlapping and sometimes conflicting state, federal, local and tribal regulations, WGA developed an online toolkit to assist stakeholders during the transmission siting and permitting processes. The Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop (RAPID) Toolkit (8) integrates information related to potential transmission routes and key permitting and siting requirements of federal and state agencies. As corridors are being reviewed, agencies should use the opportunity to identify and eliminate inconsistencies in the permitting process across agencies to streamline regulatory processes and reduce the time needed for permitting new projects.
 
Further, project proponents should be afforded a benefit from siting, permitting and utilizing corridors designated under Section 368. Particularly given the collaboration federal partners are pursuing with the Interagency Workgroup, Western Governors feel it would be appropriate to use the regional review process to incentivize corridor utilization by project proponents. This would: facilitate needed western grid expansion; help bring energy resources in remote areas to market; and demonstrate USFS’ and BLM’s commitment to corridor utilization. Potential incentives to help achieve the goal of completing the siting and permitting of projects within three years of application submission should include:
  • Waiver or reduction of federal fees associated with line siting and permitting;
  • Streamlining of the National Environmental Policy Act review process; and
  • Expedited federal review of permit applications and other submissions.
Clarifying How Corridor Designations Will Be Integrated with Other Revisions in Federal Land Management Processes and Tools
 
Western Governors continue to seek clarification on how the review of West-wide energy corridors – and any land use planning actions that may arise from the reviews’ recommendations – may be integrated with other USFS and BLM regulatory changes (e.g., USFS and BLM mitigation policies, (9) the BLM Planning 2.0 Initiative, (10) and the Council on Environmental Quality’s recently released climate change guidance (11)). The May 17 WGA letter included several questions on these topics; Governors remain anxious for BLM to provide clarity on how these changes affect the corridor revision process. It is likewise important to clarify how these policies will apply to project developers using the designated corridors. In the interest of increasing federal-state collaboration, we elaborate below on questions posed in our May letter.
 
Revisions to Resource Management Plans
  • While the outcome of the regional reviews will be land use plan recommendations, EPAct05 stipulates that corridor designations be incorporated into the relevant agency land use and resource management plans (RMPs). Revisions to RMPs to incorporate corridor recommendations will likely occur under BLM’s new Planning 2.0 guidelines. How will the corridor revision process be affected by the new guidelines?
Changes to BLM’s Mitigation Policy
  • West-wide energy corridors are intended for linear infrastructure projects, including pipelines and transmission lines that often have unavoidable environmental impacts requiring mitigation. Will anticipated project mitigation needs and concerns be considered during RMP development and revision?
  • Additionally, section 4(b) of the Presidential Memorandum, Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment directs BLM to finalize a mitigation policy by November 3, 2016. Western Governors view both corridor designation and mitigation planning as essential to project development. Accordingly, how will this initiative and the pending BLM mitigation policy influence and inform one another?
Past BLM communications have expressed the agency’s belief that the West-wide energy corridor designation process is unrelated to matters including Planning 2.0 and BLM mitigation policy. Given the direct confluence that mitigation and RMPs have with energy transmission, we strongly urge BLM to consider how these initiatives will work in coordination with one another and encourage examination of these matters in the upcoming regional reviews.
 
We stand ready to work with federal agencies to define corridors that will not only address concerns regarding the original West-wide energy corridor designation process, but also address states’ land use requirements, growth priorities and long-term energy planning needs.
 
Respectfully,
 
Steve Bullock 
Governor of Montana 
Chair, WGA 
 
Dennis Daugaard
Governor of South Dakota
Vice Chair, WGA
 
(1) Public Law 109-58.
(2) West-Wide Energy Corridors Review and Opportunities for Stakeholder Engagement. Published by Argonne National Laboratory. Available here.
(3) Section B(2), WGA Policy Resolution 2014-09: Respecting State Authority and Expertise.
(4) June 30, 2013, WGA letter and October 4, 2013, WGA letter, each to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and May 17, 2016, WGA letter to BLM and USFS regarding review of corridor designations required by Section 368 of EPAct05.
(5) June 30, 2013, WGA letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
(6) Section A(5)(d), WGA Policy Resolution 2013-09: Energy and Transmission.
(7) 10-Year Energy Vision for the West, Western Governors’ Association, June 2013.
(8) RAPID Toolkit. Available here.
(9) Presidential Memorandum, Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment, November 3, 2016.
(10) 81 FR 9673, Resource Management Planning, February 25, 2016.
(11) Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews, White House Council on Environment Quality, August 1, 2016. Available here.