National Public Lands News.com
941 E Ridgecrest Boulevard
Ridgecrest, California 93555
April 19 2013
Nancy Sutley, Chair
Council on Environmental Quality
Re: NEPA and CEQA: Integrating State and Federal Environmental Reviews, Draft for Public Review and Comments March 2013
Thank you for the opportunity for us to respond to the comment period on the above mentioned draft. What was not clear was to why this was taking place at this time until page 51. One of the basic points of NEPA and CEQA is disclosure and both under reducing paperwork are mandated to coming to the point.
Most of the stakeholders in California have been privy to the fact that there are major discrepancies between the CEC and the NEPA process, even though; a large number of projects are being approved on Federal Lands that adhere to NEPA and in some cases CEQA.
In a comparison between pages 9 and 52 a third Table should have been provided for the differences between CEQA and the CEC for the convenience of the reviewer. A timeline should have and could have been provided also, and therefore we are making a request that this extra chart be made with those timelines. One of the NEPA major items listed on page 9 that was left off on page 52, was to Engage the public to the extent practicable under EA. Another item left off under NEPA was the Public and Agency Review. And lastly, Agency decision was left off under the NEPA side on page 52.
The differences between CEQA and CEC in pages 9 and 52 were very pronounced. The Initial Study was completely left out (which contained Required Consultation with Responsible and Trustee Agencies, Notice of Intent, Public and Agency Review and Comment, If no Significant Impacts, adopt a Negative Declaration or, if mitigation is required to reduce an impact, a Mitigate Negative Declaration, and lastly, If Impact may be significant, prepare an Environmental Impact Report); Scoping was also changed to a Site Visit with no input from the public.
1. Scoping and Public Notification
NEPA and CEQA have similar requirements for public notification and involvement. But methods are incosistent when applied at the local level. Under CEQA, the counties are the enforcers of CEQA and counties do not have a standard list or method for public notification. In rural areas, it is difficult to go to the main county buildings and see the postings as required by law for a minimum of 20 days. Some county seats are in excess of 190 miles from their residents, ie; Tecopa to Independence, three and one half hours.
CEQA does not require formal hearings at any stage of the environmental review process, instead these are considered internal. However, agencies are encouraged to include environmental review as a topic when the agency holds a hearing on its decision to carry out or approve a project. A public hearing on the environmental impact of a project should be held if the Lead Agency determines it would facilitate the purpose and goals of CEQA. A draft EIR or negative declaration should be used as a basis for discussion at a public hearing (Guidelines Section 15202).
For example, Kern County sends notices to land owners within one mile of a proposed project. Anyone else is not notified. Only EIRs have some public notification requirements and it is the county’s discretion whether to publish it in a newspaper that is local. It is also up to the paper whether to publish it or not.
CEQA actions do not appear in notices in the Federal Register, even if they affect federal land, however NEPA actions are sometimes filed in CEQAnet. There is no centralized publication or notification of pending actions for CEQA. Because not all environmental documents are submitted to the State Clearinghouse, CEQAnet is not a comprehensive database of all CEQA and NEPA documents in California, which is explained on their register. To find the environmental documents, the public has to go to every agency and county to find out what is taking place, especially if it involves the CEC and less than 50 megawatts. It is also equally confusing if it is over 100 MW because then it is under a Power Plant Exemption.
b. Tribal Consultation
Tribal consultation is a key component of NEPA compliance. Federal law requires government to government consultation protocols. It is not clear how the State of California's CEQA, and especially the CEC process would satisfy federal tribal consultation laws and regulations.
c. State Histroic Preservation Office
Section 106 consultation with the State Histroic Preservation Office SHPO.
Not sure how the State of California can determine whether an archaeological site, on public lands, is eligible for the national register of historic places- which is a federal determination.
d. State listed versus Federally Endangered.
Not sure how the State of California can determine whether a state listed species is federally endangered.
e. Lead Agencies
CEQA does not allow for joint lead in doc preparation. NEPA allows for joint leads and we would encourage joint leads.
2. Document Type and Preparation
If impacts can be mitigated below signifcant level, CEQA allows for the preparation of a Negative Declaration. NEPA utilizes a similar document called an Environmental Assessment (EA) and in which case a FONSI is filed. We encourage similar documentation.
3. Document Publication
Once a Negative Decalaration or an EA document is complete, neither NEPA nor CEQA require public review of these documents prior to agancy final decision.
4. Decision and Appeal/Protest
Once the decision is made, CEQA and NEPA do not have similar appeal processes for the public to challange or protest the project decision.
5. Rights of Way Program
Under 43 U.S.C. 1733, 1740, 1763, and 1764.
Energy Projects are granted under the Rights of Way Program. It is BLM's objective to grant rights-of-way under the regulations in this part to any qualified individual, business, or government entity and to direct and control the use of rights-of-way on public lands in a manner that:
(a) Protects the natural resources associated with public lands and adjacent lands, whether private or administered by a government entity;
(b) Prevents unnecessary or undue degradation to public lands;
(c) Promotes the use of rights-of-way in common considering engineering and technological compatibility, national security, and land use plans; and
(d) Coordinates, to the fullest extent possible, all BLM actions under the regulations in this part with state and local governments, interested individuals, and appropriate quasi-public entities.
In conclusion, the California public is used to working with NEPA on Federal Lands. There is a special section in the California Desert Plan of 1980, which was mandated by Congress and the President for notification of the public under Chapter 7. We therefore are making the request that notification shall continue in this manner. CEQAnet does not notify stakeholders in 58 counties of all actions and especially those that are exempt under the 50 MW and have dual messages in regards to California Water Rights.
We also encourage joint leads. Instead of trying to conform NEPA to the CEC, perhaps the CEC should conform to CEQA and NEPA with the same timelines as the other California Agencies so the public can participate in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter,
Sophia Anne Merk, Director
Cc: Inyo, Kern, Inyo, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino Counties and Reps
John Laird, Secretary, California Natural Resources
CEC, CDFW, DWR, NAHC