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Friday, August 10, 2012

"Expediting" Energy Projects


Following is an email I sent yesterday (August 9th) to Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) at the White House.  In the unlikely event I get a response, I'll post it.

Dear Ms. Sutley:

    I have a question that I hope you can answer. 

    As you know, the president and the Secretary of the Interior have just announced that seven renewable energy projects on public (and in one case tribal) lands in the west will be “expedited,” which if it means anything at all must mean that they are slated for quick approval (c.f. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/08/07/we-can-t-wait-obama-administration-announces-seven-major-renewable-energ ).  Of the seven, at least five (Mohave Wind Energy, Quartzite Solar Energy, Desert Harvest Solar Energy, McCoy Solar Energy, and Silver State South) have not yet completed environmental impact assessment (EIA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Each of these projects, according to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) websites, has been the subject only of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), which is now undergoing public review.  A quick review of the same websites and other data sources indicates that most of these projects have not yet been fully reviewed under other variously applicable laws, including but not limited to the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the Federal Land Policy Management Act.

    Your NEPA regulations, at 40 CFR § 1502.5, specify that:

    An agency shall commence preparation of an environmental impact statement as close as possible to the time the agency is developing or is presented with a proposal (Sec. 1508.23) so that preparation can be completed in time for the final statement to be included in any recommendation or report on the proposal. The statement shall be prepared early enough so that it can serve practically as an important contribution to the decisionmaking process and will not be used to rationalize or justify decisions already made
(emphasis added).

    Other sections of your regulations provide similar direction, underscoring the obvious point that EIA is useless if it does not inform decision making.  Yet the president and Secretary of the Interior have apparently decided to approve at least the five projects listed above (and to do so on an expedited basis) even though EIA under NEPA and other statutes, including public review, has not been completed.  It appears that they regard EIA not as a substantive contribution to decision making, but as a mere administrative requirement to be expedited.  And the many individuals, tribes, local governments, and organizations now preparing comments on the DEISs are wasting their time.

    So, are the president and Secretary of the Interior not in violation of your regulations, and hence of NEPA?  If not, why not? 

    Anticipating one obvious dodgy answer, let me also ask: if the president and Secretary have not decided to approve these projects, what precisely have they decided, and what is the meaning of their direction to expedite them?

    Thank you in advance for your explanation.

    Sincerely, in puzzlement,

    Tom King

3 comments:

Ceal Smith said...

We share your concerns about the growing willingness of the Obama adm to push aside NEPA and other environmental protections to clear the way for Big Energy; A reflection of its Wall Street friendly persuasion of course. Let us know if you receive a response!

Ceal Smith
Solar Done Right/Renewable Communities
ceal@theriver.com

Ceal Smith said...

PS, you might be interested in this...

http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/22325

Tom King said...

Thanks, Ceal. Very interesting article, and much along the lines of what I've been told by my friend Andrew McKenna of Bella Energy. I'm also intrigued by Andrew's idea of distributed solar on interstate highway medians, and by the solar-over-canals being undertaken in India. Seems like California is a natural for both approaches, along with rooftop solar.