West-wide Energy Corridor PEIS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A list of frequently asked questions about the West-wide Energy Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).
Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) examining the proposal to designate energy transport corridors on Federal land in the 11 western states.
Note: These FAQs are as they were presented at the time the PEIS was being developed — see main FAQ page for post-PEIS information.
Why are the agencies proposing to designate energy transport corridors on federal lands in the West?
The purpose and need for this action is to comply with Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which calls for designating energy transport corridors that will foster future projects to deliver electricity, oil, natural gas, and hydrogen to markets and users in the 11 western states and take into account the need for upgraded and new electricity transmission and distribution facilities to improve reliability, relieve congestion, and enhance the capability of the national grid to deliver electricity.
Why are the agencies preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement?
The Energy Policy Act does not specifically require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The participating agencies are preparing a PEIS to meet congressional direction in Section 368(a)(2) of the Energy Policy Act to perform any environmental reviews required to complete corridor designation, and to integrate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process into the proposed corridor designations at the earliest possible time.
The agencies also chose to prepare a PEIS because it is a well-established vehicle for examining environmental concerns and a familiar mechanism for public participation in important resource management actions. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations direct federal agencies to prepare EISs at points in the planning and decisionmaking process that are meaningful. Preparing a PEIS now is consistent with this regulation, even though the analyses reported in the PEIS conclude that designating corridors would have no on-the-ground environmental effects.
What alternatives are analyzed in the PEIS?
Two alternatives are analyzed in detail. The No Action Alternative would designate no federal land as a Section 368 corridor. The Proposed Action would designate energy corridors on federal lands for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities in the 11 contiguous western states. Designated corridors would be the preferred locations on federally managed lands for future energy transport projects. This would involve designating approximately 6,112 miles of Section 368 corridors on federal lands in the West in 131 corridor segments.
How were the locations for the corridors in the Proposed Action chosen?
The Agencies used a systematic four-step process for siting proposed corridors:
- Step 1: The agencies took information gained from the public during scoping, information on congestion and where energy needed to move. This was used to develop an "unrestricted" conceptual network of transmission paths that addressed supply/demand needs and congestion issues, regardless of land ownership or environmental or regulatory issues.
- Step 2: The locations of individual segments of the conceptual network were revised to avoid major known environmental, land use, and regulatory constraints – such as topography, wilderness areas, and military testing and training areas, among others. This resulted in the preliminary network shown on working maps released for public review in June 2006. These routes avoided private, state, and Tribal lands; important known natural and cultural resources; and any areas on federal land incompatible with energy transport because of regulatory or land-use constraints.
- Step 3: Local federal land managers (e.g., BLM Field Offices, FS Forest Supervisors, NPS, DoD and FWS staff) examined locations from Step 2 and provided further adjustments based on their familiarity with sensitive resources in their local jurisdictions. Local managers also reviewed proposed corridor locations for consistency with objectives in their unit's land use plan.
- Step 4: The Agencies evaluated comments submitted on the Draft PEIS together with new information provided by federal land managers and resource specialists, and then revised the locations and/or characteristics of some of the proposed corridors to further avoid sensitive lands and resources or to address concerns raised by the public.
The proposed corridors identified in the Final PEIS are in the most suitable locations based on the results of the four-step evaluation.
Why doesn't the PEIS include an alternative of simply designating existing energy corridors and rights-of-way as corridors under Section 368?
This option was considered but eliminated for a number of reasons. Many of the existing energy corridors and utility rights-of-way (ROWs) are sized for relatively small transport systems (both in terms of capacity and distance) and could neither support added systems nor be expanded to accommodate additional energy transport facilities. These limitations make them too fragmentary or localized to serve the need for long-distance energy transport across the West. This option would not address electricity transmission congestion, reliability, or delivery-enhancement issues. Nevertheless, where existing corridors and ROWs could be expanded or upgraded, they have been incorporated into the Proposed Action. In fact, about 70 percent of the proposed corridors incorporate existing locally designated energy corridors and/or utility ROWs.
Besides linear footage/mileage, what other characteristics does the PEIS specify for the proposed corridors?
Section 368(e) requires that descriptions of designated corridors specify, at minimum, centerlines, widths, and compatible uses of the corridors. Proposed corridors would accommodate multimodal energy transport (i.e., pipelines and electricity transmission facilities) with a width of 3,500 feet unless otherwise specified. About 60 percent of the proposed corridors would be designated with a width of 3,500 feet. Some stretches of the proposed corridors are as narrow as 200 feet (5 miles in Colorado). Other stretches of the proposed corridors are wider than 3,500 ft (for example, 22 miles in Colorado are 26,400 feet wide, following the current local designation). Still other corridors have widths that have a range of varied widths along their lengths.
What accounts for the differences in width in some stretches?
Environmental or management constraints, local designations, topographic constraints, or poor suitability of the land make it necessary for certain stretches to be narrower than 3,500 feet. Corridor segments proposed at widths wider than 3,500 feet are segments already designated as local corridor locations that are being proposed for inclusion in the proposed corridor network. In these cases, the proposed action does not propose downsizing the widths of existing corridors, but rather adopts the predesignated greater widths.
Were the proposed corridor locations chosen with any regard to delivering electricity generated from renewable resources?
Yes. When considering where to locate proposed corridors, the agencies considered the possible future delivery of electricity generated from new renewable resources, including wind, geothermal, and solar energy. Congress also specified that designated corridors could also be used for hydrogen pipelines, which would be necessary to deliver fuel for hydrogen-powered vehicles in the future.
Do the proposed corridor locations avoid specific areas altogether?
No, but the agencies believe that the proposed corridors avoid location-constrained areas to the maximum extent possible while still meeting the goals of Section 368. The four-step corridor siting evaluation process reduced the number of National Parks, National Monuments, and National Recreation Areas that would be crossed to 7 (from 15 at the end of Step 2). Routes are identified on two National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) (down from as many as 12 early in the process) but no corridors would be designated on NWR lands until specific projects are evaluated under the Fish and Wildlife Service's compatibility requirements. No Wilderness Areas would be crossed by the proposed corridors, reduced from 27 at the beginning of the process. Proposed corridors would cross three Wild and Scenic Rivers, one in California and two in Oregon.
What makes crossing "location-constrained areas" unavoidable?
The location of energy demand and supply areas, topographical constraints, and land-ownership status combine to make these crossings unavoidable. In many cases, these crossings will take advantage of existing utility ROWs, and thus do not represent a new crossing location on federal land. Energy supplies and energy demand areas are fixed variables, and so are topographical features. Section 368 states that corridors are to be designated on federal lands only.
It is also important to remember that no new environmental disturbance would occur in corridors designated through this process unless and until a specific energy transport project is proposed. Furthermore, designating these corridors does not obligate or require applicants to site their projects within these corridors. Applicants would still be able to choose to propose routes outside these corridors for their energy transport projects and acquire ROWs and permits in the manner currently available.
What would the benefits be from using designated corridors?
While project applicants would not be required to locate projects in Section 368 corridors, applicants who would choose to use them could take advantage of a more efficient application process that would include:
- Providing applicants with a clear set of actions required by each agency to build projects in designated corridors
- Providing siting options for compatible projects in designated corridors
- Coordinating corridor designations across agency administrative barriers
- Coordinating agency administrative processes within corridors
- Applying Interagency Operating Procedures that would assist in preparing and evaluating ROW applications
- A single federal point of contact for each ROW application
- "Tiering" from the PEIS for project-specific environmental review
- Focusing project planning data collection and project-specific engineering on issues specific to the proposed project and the associated within-corridor ROW and not on alternative locations
These benefits could expedite the application, authorization, and construction of energy transport projects as directed by Section 368.
How is this action related to the Department of Energy's decision to designate national interest electric transmission corridors?
Section 1221(a) of the Energy Policy Act authorizes DOE to designate "national interest electric transmission corridors" to relieve congestion revealed in a separate congestion study. DOE designated National Interest Corridors through a process separate and independent of this PEIS. The BLM and the Forest Service are not involved in the designation of national interest corridors under Section 1221(a).
National interest corridor designations involve county-specific geographic areas in the mid-Atlantic and Southwestern United States rather than the narrow, linear areas proposed in the 11 contiguous western states for this action. Siting procedures for proposed projects within the national interest corridors would apply to all lands in federal, state, and private ownership, while the siting and permitting procedures proposed in this PEIS would apply only to lands in federal ownership and only to those federal lands identified in the PEIS.
The Congestion Study, completed by the DOE under Section 1221(a), identified congestion areas and constraints limiting flows of electricity in some of the 11 western states involved in the Section 368 corridor designation associated with this PEIS, but was independent of this PEIS analytical work.
How can I request additional information on the PEIS?
Requests may be submitted in several ways:
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