Agencies to expedite electricity transmission permits on federal land
The new process calls for a single agency to take the lead in shepherding permit applications through a complex review process that involves multiple agencies. It does not reduce the requirements, environmental and otherwise, applicants must meet for approval.
"The overall goal is to reduce the [approval] time and make sure one agency is accountable for all other agencies completing their work in a timely way, and reduce bureaucratic hassles," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by representatives of the Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy and Interior departments, and the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and Council on Environmental Quality.
Under the agreement, which took effect on Oct. 23, agencies will review applications concurrently, instead of sequentially as is done now, to cut the review time by one-third and flag problems much earlier in the process, officials said.
Sutley said the current approval process takes anywhere from two to five years, with some applications taking much longer.
In addition, the agreement will facilitate coordination and environmental compliance documentation among project applicants, federal and state agencies, and tribes involved in the siting and permitting process. It also will establish clear timelines for agency actions along with a single consolidated environmental review and administrative record.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department's Bureau of Land Management is processing more than 30 applications for major transmission corridor rights-of-way. Seven of the applications are being fast-tracked to clear the permitting project by next year. Together the seven projects -- which are in Idaho, California and Nevada -- would add more than 1,000 miles of transmission lines.
The announcement of the MOU follows the administration's pledge on Tuesday that it will invest $3.4 billion in Recovery Act funds in projects aimed at developing technologies that will both strengthen the nationwide electric transmission grid and allow for more efficient use of energy.