The U.S. Department of Energy recently proposed a rule to establish a Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits Program to accelerate federal environmental review and permitting processes for qualifying onshore electric transmission facilities.
“Consistent with the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, the program aims toward a better coordinated, more streamlined process that will set deadlines for Federal authorizations and permits for electric transmission on a two-year timeline while ensuring meaningful engagement with Tribes, local communities, and other stakeholders,” DOE said in a news release.
The DOE Grid Deployment Office, which will administer the CITAP Program, is now seeking public comment and feedback on the proposed program via a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Legislative Authority Background
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 added Section 216(h) to the Federal Power Act. This provision of law authorizes DOE to serve as the lead agency for coordinating all Federal authorizations and related environmental reviews necessary to site an electric transmission facility.
In May of 2023, nine federal agencies, including DOE, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement this authority to expedite the siting, permitting, and construction of electric transmission infrastructure in the United States while ensuring strong environmental protections and robust community engagement.
In the MOU, the DOE committed to update its regulations to implement this authority and to establish a standard schedule that identifies the general timeline needed to complete decisions on all Federal environmental reviews and authorizations.
With the Aug. 10 announcement, DOE is issuing proposed updates to its regulation and publishing a draft standard schedule.
DOE noted that currently, the process of building transmission projects can take more than a decade. Although many factors contribute to these timelines, the CITAP program will work to ensure that the federal permitting processes are efficient and robust to enable transmission to be brought online more quickly, it said.
The CITAP program does not replace any state or local government permitting or siting authorities or any requirement of federal law.
Rather, the program seeks to coordinate, and thereby accelerate, federal permitting reviews and decision making.
Through the CITAP Program, DOE will identify at the earliest opportunity the federal and non-federal entities relevant to the permitting of a proposed project.
DOE will then lead an iterative, interagency process to ensure that a developers’ applications for federal authorizations are ready for review on the binding project-specific timelines DOE will establish.
DOE will also work with the relevant agencies to prepare a single environmental review document to support the permit decision making of each relevant federal entity, reducing duplication of work and improving efficiency.
Integrated Interagency Preapplication Process
DOE is proposing that a developer must participate in the Integrated Interagency Preapplication (IIP) process for its projects to participate in the CITAP program.
This process would provide a uniform mechanism for developers to identify siting constraints and opportunities, engage with Tribes, local communities, and other stakeholders, and gather information that will serve as inputs, as appropriate, into federal permitting agencies’ authorization decisions and the single environmental review document that DOE will prepare.
The proposed rules would require all participating transmission developers to submit a public engagement plan during the IIP process that describes how they will work with Tribes, local communities, and other stakeholders throughout the life of the project.
The IIP process “will significantly improve the efficiency of the permitting process for project developers by collecting all information necessary to demonstrate compliance with various Federal authorities up front,” DOE said.
As required by the MOU, DOE also released a draft Standard Schedule that indicates how the Department will consolidate the application review process, including Federal environmental reviews and authorizations for a transmission project, into the two-year timeline.
The standard schedule is a template, and each project will receive a project-specific schedule based on its location and scope, incorporating the need for robust analysis of project impacts and early and meaningful consultation with potentially affected Tribal nations, communities, or other stakeholders. The project-specific schedule will establish mandatory timelines for Federal agencies to complete the necessary permitting processes and related environmental reviews.
Through the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) released by DOE, DOE seeks comments on the CITAP Program implementation, especially the IIP Process requirements for transmission developers.
DOE specifically invites Tribal governments to provide comments on the effects that this regulation could potentially have on Tribal communities.
The comment period will be open for 45 days following the NOPR publication in the Federal Register. Details on how to submit comments are provided in the NOPR.
A public webinar will be held on August 23, 2023.