Federal - State Joint Environmental Process

The public lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) play an important role in renewable energy. On California BLM public lands, solar development for large-scale electricity projects is just beginning; however it is beginning in a significant way. By March 2009, BLM already had 71 solar energy applications for 638,452 acres of public land in California.

Under Federal law, BLM is responsible for processing requests for rights-of-way (ROW) to authorize solar projects and associated transmission lines and other appurtenant facilities on the land it manages. Among other laws, BLM must comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to ensure that environmental impacts associated with construction, operation, and decommissioning will be identified, analyzed and considered in the application process.

BLM considers such requests in a manner that avoids or reduces impacts to public lands. This approach responds to federal law and BLM’s policy allowing the use of public lands for renewable energy, specifically section 211 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (119 Stat. 594, 660) and BLM’s Solar Energy Development Policy, which was issued on April 4, 2007, and established a framework to process applications for ROWs and directs the BLM to be responsive to solar energy project applicants while protecting the environment.

Under California law, the Commission is responsible for reviewing and ultimately approving or denying all applications to construct and operate thermal electric power plants, 50 MW and greater, in California, and also has the role of lead agency for the environmental review of the projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Pub. Resources Code, section 25500 et seq; Pub. Resources Code, section 21000 et seq.)

The Commission conducts this review in accordance with the administrative adjudication provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (Gov. Code, section 11400 et seq.) and its own regulations governing site certification proceedings (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 20, section 1701 et seq.) The Commission has a certified regulatory program under CEQA that exempts the agency from having to draft an environmental impact report and, instead, requires a final staff assessment, evidentiary hearings, and a decision based on the hearing record, which includes the staff’s and other parties’ assessments.

In order to efficiently comply with NEPA and CEQA, BLM and the Commission entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): Concerning Joint Environmental Review for Solar Thermal Power Plant Projects (2007). Planning ahead for these joint projects allows for the shared preparation of a joint environmental analysis of proposed projects to avoid duplication of staff efforts, the sharing of staff expertise and information, the promoting intergovernmental coordination at the local, state, and federal levels, and to facilitate public review by providing a joint document and a more efficient environmental review process.

NOTICE: Distributed by the Public Adviser's Office. This is for informational purposes only. It is designed to assist you in understanding the process. It is, therefore, general in nature and does not discuss all exceptions and variations.