[Federal Register: May 29, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 104)]
[Notices]               
[Page 30908-30912]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr29my08-54]                         

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DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Bureau of Land Management

 
Notice of Intent To Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement To Evaluate Solar Energy Development, Develop and Implement 
Agency-Specific Programs, Conduct Public Scoping Meetings, Amend 
Relevant Agency Land Use Plans, and Provide Notice of Proposed Planning 
Criteria

AGENCIES: Department of Energy (DOE) and Bureau of Land Management 
(BLM), Department of the Interior (DOI).

ACTION: Notice of Intent.

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SUMMARY: In Executive Order 13212, Actions to Expedite Energy-Related 
Projects, the President ordered that executive departments and agencies 
take appropriate actions ``to expedite projects that will increase the 
production, transmission, or conservation of energy.'' In addition, 
Title II, Section 211, of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Pub. L. 109-
58) provides that the Secretary of the Interior (the Secretary) should, 
within 10 years of enactment of the Act, ``* * * seek to have approved 
non-hydropower renewable energy projects located on the public lands 
with a generation capacity of at least 10,000 megawatts of 
electricity.'' DOE and BLM (the Agencies) have identified utility-scale 
solar energy development as a potentially critical component in meeting 
these mandates. Utility-scale solar energy projects generate 
electricity that is distributed to consumers through the electric power 
transmission grid. The Agencies have determined that specific actions 
should be taken to further such energy development. The Agencies are 
considering the development and implementation of agency-specific 
programs that would establish environmental policies and mitigation 
strategies (e.g., best management practices and siting criteria) 
related to solar energy development in six western states

[[Page 30909]]

(Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah). DOE 
proposes to develop a solar energy program of environmental policies 
and mitigation strategies that would apply to the deployment of DOE 
supported solar energy projects on BLM-administered lands or other 
Federal, State, tribal, or private lands. The BLM would establish its 
own environmental policies and mitigation strategies to use when making 
decisions on whether to issue rights-of-way for utility-scale solar 
energy development projects on public lands administered by the BLM. 
The Agencies have determined that a programmatic environmental impact 
statement (PEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
(NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.) is appropriate for the establishment 
of specific agency-wide solar energy programs and additional related 
policy.
    The Agencies are issuing this Notice of Intent to inform the public 
about the proposed actions; announce plans to conduct eight public 
scoping meetings; invite public participation in the scoping process; 
and solicit public comments for consideration in establishing the scope 
and content of the PEIS, alternatives, and environmental issues and 
impacts.
    The Agencies will prepare the PEIS in accordance with NEPA; the 
Council on Environmental Quality regulations (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508); 
the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. 
1701, et seq.) DOE's NEPA regulations, 10 CFR Part 1021; and BLM's 
planning regulations, 43 CFR Part 1600.

DATES:  The public scoping period starts with the publication of this 
notice in the Federal Register and will continue through July 7, 2008. 
Written and oral comments will be given equal weight, and the Agencies 
will consider all comments received or postmarked by July 7, 2008, in 
defining the scope of this PEIS. Comments received or postmarked after 
that date will be considered to the extent practicable.
    Public scoping meetings to obtain comments on the PEIS will be held 
at the following locations on the dates specified below:

Riverside, California: Monday, June 16, 2008;
Barstow, California: Tuesday, June 17, 2008;
Las Vegas, Nevada: Wednesday, June 18, 2008;
Sacramento, California: Thursday, June 19, 2008;
Denver, Colorado: Monday, June 23, 2008;
Phoenix, Arizona: Tuesday, June 24, 2008;
Salt Lake City, Utah: Wednesday, June 25, 2008;
Albuquerque, New Mexico: Thursday, June 26, 2008.

    The Agencies will announce the times and locations of the public 
meetings through the local media and the project Web site (http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://solareis.anl.gov).

ADDRESSES: The Agencies invite interested Federal and State agencies, 
organizations, Native American tribes, and members of the public to 
submit comments or suggestions to assist in identifying significant 
environmental issues and in determining the scope of this PEIS.
    You may submit written comments by the following methods:
     Electronically, using the online comment form available on 
the project Web site: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://solareis.anl.gov. This is the preferred 
method of commenting.
     In writing, addressed to: Solar Energy PEIS Scoping, 
Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 S. Cass Avenue--EVS/900, Argonne, IL 
60439.
    Scoping meetings will include an introductory presentation on: 
solar energy technologies and market prospects; the proposed actions 
and scope of the PEIS, including proposed alternatives and 
environmental issues and impacts to be analyzed; and the public 
participation process. Oral comments from the public will begin 
immediately after the presentation.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information, including 
information on how to comment, you may contact: Lisa Jorgensen, 
Department of Energy, Golden Field Office, lisa.jorgensen@go.doe.gov, 
303-275-4906; or Linda Resseguie, BLM Washington Office, linda--
resseguie@blm.gov, 202-452-7774, You may also visit the Solar Energy 
Development PEIS Web site at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://solareis.anl.gov.
    For general information on the DOE NEPA process, please contact: 
Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance (GC-
20), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., 
Washington, DC 20585-0119; e-mail: AskNEPA@hq.doe.gov; telephone: 202-
586-4600; leave a message at 1-800-472-2756; or facsimile: 202-586-
7031.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background and Need for Agency Action

    In response to direction from Congress under Title II, Section 211, 
of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Pub.L. 109-58), as well as Executive 
Order 13212, Actions to Expedite Energy-Related Projects, 66 FR 28357 
published on May 22, 2001, the Agencies are evaluating whether 
environmentally responsible utility-scale solar energy projects can be 
facilitated through developing and implementing agency-specific 
programs that would establish environmental policies and mitigation 
strategies for solar energy development. Utility-scale solar energy 
projects generate electricity that is delivered directly into the 
electricity transmission grid.
    The BLM has received a large number of utility-scale solar energy 
project proposals for BLM-administered lands, mainly in Arizona, 
California, and Nevada. It currently processes solar energy right-of-
way applications for lands under its Solar Energy Development Policy 
(Instruction Memorandum No. 2007-097), which, among other objectives, 
establishes requirements for solar energy project environmental review. 
The DOE Solar Energy Technologies Program currently addresses 
environmental concerns for solar projects it sponsors through grants on 
a case-by-case basis. Other DOE program offices may use the PEIS in 
future decisionmaking.

Proposed Action and Alternatives

    The proposed action in this PEIS is for the Agencies to develop and 
implement agency-specific programs that would facilitate 
environmentally responsible utility-scale solar energy development by 
establishing environmental policies and mitigation strategies related 
to solar energy development in six western states (Arizona, California, 
Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah). The study area has been 
limited to these six states based on initial resource assessment 
showing they encompass the most prospective solar energy resources 
suitable for utility-scale development over the next 20 years.
    Through this PEIS, the BLM is considering whether to establish a 
Bureau-wide solar energy development program to supplement or replace 
existing BLM solar development policy, and to amend land use plans in 
the six-state study area to adopt the new program. In addition, the BLM 
expects to identify BLM-administered land in the six state study area 
that may be environmentally suitable for solar energy development and 
land that would be excluded from such development. The PEIS will also 
consider whether designation by BLM of additional electricity 
transmission corridors on BLM-administered lands is necessary to 
facilitate utility-scale solar energy development. Public lands 
withdrawn or set aside for use by

[[Page 30910]]

another Federal agency over which the BLM does not have administrative 
jurisdiction will not be considered by BLM to authorize solar energy 
development. The PEIS will not include lands within the National 
Landscape Conservation System, such as National Conservation Areas, 
National Monuments, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and 
Scenic Rivers, and National Historic and Scenic Trails. The PEIS also 
will not include lands that the BLM has previously identified in its 
land use plans as environmentally sensitive, such as Areas of Critical 
Environmental Concern or other special management areas, that are 
inappropriate for or inconsistent with extensive, surface-disturbing 
uses. The intention of the PEIS is not to eliminate the need for site-
specific environmental review for individual utility-scale solar energy 
development proposals. Site-specific environmental reviews are expected 
to be tiered to the PEIS and to be more effective and efficient because 
of the PEIS. Existing solar energy right-of-way applications will 
continue to be processed by the BLM on a site-specific, case-by-case 
basis. As of the date of publication of this Notice, no new solar 
energy right-of-way applications will be accepted by the BLM until 
completion of the PEIS.
    Through this PEIS, DOE is considering developing a solar energy 
program of environmental policies and mitigation strategies that would 
apply to the deployment of solar energy projects that are supported by 
DOE. Policies and mitigation measures adopted as part of the proposed 
solar energy technology deployment program would identify for DOE, 
industry, and stakeholders the best practices for deploying solar 
energy and ensuring minimal impact to natural and cultural resources on 
BLM-administered lands or other Federal, State, tribal, or private 
lands.
    The Agencies invite any Federal, State, or local agency or tribal 
government with jurisdiction by law or special expertise in solar 
energy development to be a cooperating agency. The California Energy 
Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, and California 
Department of Fish and Game have already indicated that they plan to 
participate as cooperating agencies. Other agencies or state 
governments may become cooperating agencies at a later date.

No Action Alternative

    The PEIS will address the no action alternative of (1) for DOE, not 
establishing a program of environmental policies and mitigation 
strategies that would be applicable to solar energy technology 
deployment supported by its programs, and (2) for BLM, not establishing 
a Bureau-wide solar energy development program, not amending its land 
use plans, and not identifying land that is environmentally suitable 
for solar energy development or land that would be excluded from such 
development. Under the no action alternative, DOE and BLM would 
continue to evaluate solar energy projects on a case-by-case basis 
(and, for BLM, in accordance with the requirements of the Solar Energy 
Development Policy, Instruction Memorandum No. 2007-097).

Facilitated Development Alternative

    The PEIS will evaluate a facilitated development alternative 
(proposed action) that includes the establishment of (1) for DOE, a 
solar energy program of environmental policies and mitigation 
strategies that would apply to the deployment of solar energy project 
supported by DOE; and (2) for the BLM, a Bureau-wide solar energy 
program and the amendment of individual BLM land use plans to address 
future development of solar energy resources on BLM-administered lands. 
For this alternative, the Agencies will create a reasonably foreseeable 
development (RFD) scenario to define the potential for future utility-
scale solar energy development activities over a 20-year study period. 
This RFD will identify which BLM land use plans might be amended. 
Examples of possible amendments to land use plans include the (1) 
adoption of stipulations (e.g., wildlife management guidelines) 
applicable to solar energy development projects, and (2) identification 
of lands with high solar energy development potential, including the 
designation of lands suited to competitive leasing, if applicable.

Limited Development Alternative

    For BLM a ``limited development'' alternative may also be examined 
that would evaluate the impacts of previously proposed solar energy 
development projects which have complete plans of development and are 
awaiting application approval.
    For DOE, there are no other alternatives at this time.

BLM Planning Criteria

    The FLPMA requires the BLM to develop land use plans, also known as 
RMPs, to guide the BLM's management of public lands. For solar energy 
projects to be developed on public lands managed by the BLM, such 
activities must be provided for in these RMPs. One outcome of the PEIS 
could be to amend some of BLM's existing RMPs to adopt a new Bureau-
wide solar energy program. The BLM's land use planning regulations, 
which implement the FLPMA, require the BLM to publish, and provide for 
public review of, the proposed planning criteria that will guide the 
BLM's land use planning process. This Notice fulfills the BLM's 
obligation under the FLPMA and the BLM's planning regulations (43 CFR 
1610.2(f) and 43 CFR 1610.4-2) to notify the public of its proposed 
planning criteria.
    Planning criteria are the constraints, standards, and guidelines 
that determine what the BLM will or will not consider during its 
planning process. As such, they establish parameters and help focus 
analysis of the issues identified in scoping, and structure the 
preparation of the PEIS. The BLM welcomes public comment on the 
following proposed planning criteria, which will be used in the 
development of the PEIS as it is prepared to analyze RMP amendments:
     The BLM will prepare RMP amendments in compliance with the 
FLPMA, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air 
Act, NEPA, and all other applicable laws, Executive Orders, and BLM 
management policies.
     The BLM will use the PEIS as the analytical basis for any 
decision it makes to amend an individual land use plan to respond to 
the potential for increased levels of solar energy development on BLM-
administered public lands.
     The BLM will develop an RFD scenario to predict levels of 
development. It will identify lands available for utility-scale solar 
energy development, lands available for utility-scale solar energy 
development that have restrictive stipulations, and lands not available 
for utility-scale solar energy development in affected plans.
     The BLM will limit its amendment of these plans to 
utility-scale solar energy development and associated transmission 
issues and will not address the management of other resources, although 
the BLM will consider and analyze the impacts from increased use on 
other managed resource values.
     The BLM will continue to manage other resources in the 
affected planning areas under the pre-existing terms, conditions, and 
decisions in the applicable RMPs for those other resources.
     The BLM will recognize valid existing rights under the 
RMPs, as amended.
     The BLM will coordinate with Federal, State, and local 
agencies and

[[Page 30911]]

tribal governments in the PEIS and plan amendment process to strive for 
consistency with existing plans and policies, to the extent 
practicable.
     The BLM will coordinate with tribal governments and 
provide strategies for the protection of recognized traditional uses in 
the PEIS and plan amendment process.
     The BLM will take into account appropriate protection and 
management of cultural and historic resources in the PEIS and plan 
amendment process, and will engage in all required consultation.
     The BLM will recognize in the PEIS and plan amendments the 
special importance of public lands to people who live in communities 
surrounded by public lands and the importance of public lands to the 
nation as a whole.
     The BLM will make every effort to encourage public 
participation throughout the PEIS process.
     The BLM has the authority to develop protective management 
prescriptions for lands with wilderness characteristics within RMPs. As 
part of the public involvement process for land use planning, the BLM 
will consider public input regarding lands to be managed to maintain 
wilderness characteristics.
     Environmental protection and energy production are both 
desirable and necessary objectives of sound land management practices 
and are not to be considered mutually exclusive priorities.
     The BLM will consider and analyze relevant climate change 
impacts in its land use plans and associated NEPA documents, including 
the anticipated climate change benefits of solar energy.
     The BLM will use geospatial data in a geographic 
information system (GIS) to facilitate discussions of the affected 
environment, formulation of alternatives, analysis of environmental 
consequences, and display of results.
    Over the course of the scoping period, as further planning criteria 
are determined or developed, such criteria will be announced on the 
project Web site (http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://solareis.anl.gov).

Scoping Process

    Interested parties are invited to participate in the scoping 
process, both to refine the preliminary alternatives and environmental 
issues to be analyzed in depth and to eliminate from detailed study 
those alternatives and environmental issues that are not feasible or 
pertinent. The scoping process is intended to involve all interested 
agencies (Federal, State, county, and local), public interest groups, 
Native American tribes, businesses, and members of the public. Public 
scoping meetings will be held as indicated above under the DATES 
section. These scoping meetings will be informal. The presiding officer 
will establish only those procedures needed to ensure that everyone who 
wishes to speak has a chance to do so and that the agency 
representatives understand all issues and comments. Speakers will be 
allocated approximately three minutes for their oral statements. 
Depending on the number of persons wishing to speak, the presiding 
officer may allow longer speaking times. Persons wishing to speak on 
behalf of an organization should identify that organization in their 
request to speak. Meetings will begin at the times specified and will 
continue until all those present who wish to participate have had an 
opportunity to do so. Should any speaker wish to provide for the record 
further information that cannot be presented within the designated 
time, such information may be submitted in writing or electronically to 
the addresses in the ADDRESSES section by the date listed in the DATES 
section.
    The public is encouraged to communicate information and comments on 
issues it believes the Agencies should address in the PEIS. The 
Agencies request information and comments on resources in the western 
United States that utility-scale solar energy development may impact. 
Comments may address broad issues or specific resources. Individuals 
should be aware that the entire comment--including personal identifying 
information (i.e., address, phone number, and e-mail address)--may be 
made publicly available at any time. While one can request in the 
comment that personal identifying information be withheld from public 
review, this cannot be guaranteed. All comments from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, will be 
available for public inspection in their entirety.
    After gathering public comments on issues that should be addressed 
in the PEIS during the public scoping period, the Agencies will 
identify and provide the rationale in the PEIS on those issues 
addressed and those issues determined to be beyond the scope of the 
PEIS. A scoping summary report will be available for public review 
approximately 45 days following closure of the public scoping period. 
The report will be posted on the project Web site (http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://solareis.anl.gov), or may be requested from Lisa Jorgensen, Department 
of Energy, Golden Field Office, lisa.jorgensen@go.doe.gov, 303-275-
4906, or Linda Resseguie, BLM Washington Office, linda--
resseguie@blm.gov, 202-452-7774.

Approach and Schedule for the PEIS

    To consider the variety of resource issues and concerns identified, 
the Agencies will use an interdisciplinary approach to develop the 
PEIS. Specialists with expertise in disciplines including but not 
limited to the following will be involved in the planning process: 
Solar energy, wildlife and fisheries, vegetation, air quality, outdoor 
recreation, archaeology, paleontology, hydrology, soils, land use, 
visual resources, sociology, and economics.
    The PEIS will describe the purpose and need for the proposed 
actions, including the effects of solar energy development on the 
nation's energy supply, economy, and energy security. It will also 
describe solar energy technologies; the distribution of solar energy 
resources on a regional scale; activities to be undertaken for site 
monitoring, evaluation, and utility-scale development; the impacts 
associated with implementing current technologies; and mitigation 
measures and constraints relevant to solar energy development. The PEIS 
will consider ongoing transmission planning efforts underway (e.g., the 
Western Governors' Association Renewable Energy Zone Project; the 
California Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, and the Draft PEIS 
entitled Designation of Energy Corridors on Federal Land in the 11 
Western States (DOE/EIS-0386) in evaluating electricity transmission 
access issues associated with solar energy development in the six-state 
study area. The need to designate additional electricity transmission 
corridors on BLM-administered lands to facilitate utility-scale solar 
energy development will be considered. The PEIS may include NEPA 
analysis for a limited number of site-specific corridor designations on 
BLM-administered lands, as appropriate.
    As currently envisioned, the PEIS will evaluate direct, indirect, 
and cumulative impacts to wildlife, wildlife habitat, threatened and 
endangered species, and vegetation; proximity to wilderness or other 
special management areas; and impacts to cultural, paleontological, 
socioeconomic, visual, and water resources. These resources are 
recognized as significant issues associated with utility-scale solar 
energy development.
    During the public scoping period, the Agencies will work 
collaboratively with interested parties to identify the

[[Page 30912]]

management decisions that are best suited to local, regional, and 
national needs and concerns. Early participation is encouraged and will 
help determine the content of each Agency's solar energy program and 
the future management of the Federal, State, tribal or private lands 
used for utility-scale solar energy projects.
    The Agencies anticipate that the Solar Energy Development PEIS will 
be completed in approximately 22 months; the process will include 
public and agency scoping; coordination and consultation with Federal, 
State, and local agencies and tribal governments; publication of a 
draft PEIS; public review of the draft PEIS; and publication of a final 
PEIS. The draft PEIS is scheduled to be issued in spring 2009. The 
availability of the draft PEIS and dates for public hearings soliciting 
comments on it will be announced in the Federal Register and local 
media. Comments on the draft PEIS will be considered in preparing the 
final PEIS.
    Interested parties not submitting comments at this time but who 
would like to receive a copy of the draft PEIS and other project 
materials should indicate this preference through the project Web site 
(http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://solareis.anl.gov), or by contacting Lisa Jorgensen or Linda 
Resseguie as provided in the ADDRESSES section of this notice.

    Issued in Washington, DC, on May 23, 2008.
Alexander A. Karsner,
Assistant Secretary, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department 
of Energy.
Ray Brady,
Manager, Energy Policy Act Team, Bureau of Land Management, Department 
of the Interior.
[FR Doc. E8-12024 Filed 5-28-08; 8:45 am]

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