The long effort to assure a fair, rigorous permitting process for the Northern Pass project got a boost last week, as the New Hampshire Congressional delegation came together to demand, yet again, transparency regarding how that process will address alternatives to the current proposal.
Over the next year or so, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will prepare an extensive study of the Northern Pass project, its many impacts on the environment, and the reasonable alternatives to the developer’s proposal, known as the Environmental Impact Statement or EIS. That document must comply with the requirements of a landmark federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and will help determine whether DOE grants the project a Presidential Permit and whether the U.S. Forest Service grants the project a permit to cross the White Mountains. It will also have a major influence in the state siting process. In light of the document’s importance, CLF and many thousands of other stakeholders participated in the official “scoping” process for the EIS, which concluded in early November.
DOE says that its next step is to release a “scoping report” that describes the process, the public scoping meetings held in 2011 and 2013, and the thousands of written comments received from the public. Many months after the scoping report is released, DOE will publish a draft EIS, likely with thousands of pages of text and appendices, which will analyze the project and the alternatives DOE deems “reasonable” in great detail. The public will then have a limited time to comment on the draft EIS.
Unfortunately, this process is now leaving the public in the dark regarding a critical issue: which alternatives—such as burial of the transmission line, and alternative routes—DOE intends to study in detail in its EIS.
In a joint letter this week, the New Hampshire Congressional delegation asked DOE to take an essential interim step—to release a report identifying the alternatives DOE plans to study in detail in the EIS:
As we have previously emphasized, it is of the utmost importance that New Hampshire citizens are provided an opportunity to have input on a thorough, transparent, and effective EIS study. Given the public’s immense interest in studying alternatives, we are compelled to emphasize and renew our request that DOE provide a preliminary report detailing which alternatives will be studied, and that this report is made public prior to the completion of the draft EIS study.
The delegation made this same request in an earlier letter dated August 2013, which I noted last summer. DOE’s response to that letter promised that the request would be considered. The delegation’s new letter shows that, once again and despite DOE inaction, New Hampshire’s U.S. senators and representatives remain deeply committed to a permitting process that is fully responsive to the extraordinary public concerns generated by this project, especially the strong interest—reflected in more than 1,400 written comments and extending to the New Hampshire Governor’s office—in pursuing alternatives to the current proposal. Northern Pass alternatives are the subject of an ongoing series here at CLF Scoop, the first two installments of which you can read here.
CLF and others have been asking DOE to disclose a detailed plan for the project’s environmental review for three years. It’s a common-sense step in what is a lengthy and highly complex undertaking that must comprehensively assess a 187-mile transmission project and meaningfully incorporate vast amounts of public input. That DOE has not yet agreed to publish a preliminary alternatives report has been profoundly discouraging, especially because there are numerous examples of federal agencies releasing information on alternatives to be studied in an EIS prior to publishing the draft EIS itself—from the I-93 project in New Hampshire to the Northeast Corridor rail planning process to reviews of transmission projects on federal land to DOE’s own historic practice. In this case, CLF and our partners are calling on DOE to allow the public an opportunity to comment on DOE’s alternatives report, to ensure that DOE’s list of alternatives to be studied in detail is as inclusive as federal law requires.
For not the first time, DOE’s commitment to an open and through environmental review of the Northern Pass project is in question. CLF applauds the Congressional delegation’s repeated efforts to put DOE on a new course that delivers the fair and transparent process that New Hampshire deserves.
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