Proposed Changes to TVA’s NEPA Procedures

Update — September 7, 2017

The public review period of TVA’s proposed update to its procedures for complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) ended on September 6, 2017. TVA is currently studying the comments and will make revisions to the procedures, as needed, before they are finalized.

NEPA establishes the process for identifying, considering and disclosing environmental impacts of major federal actions. TVA first established its NEPA procedures in 1978 and made minor revisions in 1983. To update these procedures, TVA consulted with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and is now going through a formal “rulemaking process” that includes gathering public input.  TVA published the Notice of Proposed Rule in the Federal Register on June 8, 2017.

Our current procedures are found in the TVA Instruction IX - Environmental Review, a section of TVA’s administrative code. Through this rulemaking process, TVA would add its procedures to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as part of Part 1318 (see 18 CFR 1318).

Why Update our Procedures?

  • Clarification will promote environmental stewardship and legal compliance, leading to better decision-making.
  • Proposed updates more accurately reflect our mission, the evolving energy industry and modern communication methods.
  • Opportunities to improve business practices and reduce unnecessary paperwork.
  • Need to incorporate new guidance, directives and legal precedents that are relevant to NEPA practices.

What Changes are Proposed?

Much of TVA’s procedure for NEPA would remain the same.  Under the updated procedure TVA would continue to:

  • Prepare environmental reviews according to the guidelines the White House Council on Environmental Quality establishes for all federal agencies.
  • Prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) for any major action expected to have significant or highly controversial environmental impacts. Normally that will include any large water resource development and water control projects (like construction of new dams or navigation locks) and new major power generating facilities proposed at sites not previously used for industrial purposes.
  • Prepare environmental assessments (EA) for any proposed activities that don’t qualify for categorical exclusion or where the environmental effects are uncertain.
  • Complete an environmental review checklist for most actions when considering whether it qualifies for a categorical exclusion.
  • Educate and inform the public during EISs and EAs, as appropriate, using modern communications methods. These include public open houses, presentations, briefings, news releases, web site posting direct mail, social media, webinars and streaming meetings.

The list of Categorical Exclusions (CEs) would be updated to cover the small projects and routine work that TVA needs to do.

  • CEs are for actions found to have no significant individual or cumulative environmental effect (under normal circumstances) and for which more in-depth environmental reviews are unnecessary.
  • CEs are not exemptions or waivers from NEPA review, they are simply a third type of NEPA review.
  • Slight or no changes are proposed for 19 existing CEs. We would remove 9 CEs that are rarely used (e.g., uranium exploration) or replaced by other new CEs.
  • 31 new CEs would be added to better describe TVA’s small tasks, repetitive actions and routine work. See the comparison chart below for details about the activities that we verified, based on TVA and other federal agency experience, will have little or no environmental impacts. 
  • For most activities that could qualify for a CE, TVA specialists complete a 60-question checklist, often performing field visits to verify there are no extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed activity.
  • As TVA has always done, some routine activities with no potential for environmental effects (training personnel, or changing a bathroom faucet) would not require paperwork to check for environmental effects.
  • Even for categorically excluded activities, TVA must comply with other applicable laws and requirements, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Documentation Supporting Proposed Categorical Exclusions

The document below titled Supporting Documentation of Proposed Categorical Exclusions (June 2017) contains a Summary of Proposed Changes to Categorical Exclusions table that details which CEs are being eliminated, modified or added. See this Summary table below. The supporting documentation lists reasons for proposing activities for categorical exclusion.  Reviewing it closely will help you understand TVA’s recommendations. The document is not meant to provide a comprehensive record of factors relied upon during development of the proposed CEs, but rather, to describe the basis upon which each proposed CE was established. 

The proposed updates place new limitations on the amount of work that can qualify for categorical exclusion. 

  • Projects proposed in areas with extraordinary circumstances would be disqualified from a categorical exclusion. A more detailed environmental review would be required if special circumstances exist, such as possible harm to an endangered species, or potentially significant impacts to wetlands.  The update would expand the list of extraordinary circumstances.
  • Many new proposed categorical exclusions contain limits on distance or area (for example, no more than approximately 10 acres) that can be affected in a project that qualifies for a checklist. CEQ recommends that federal agencies include these constraints to ensure that the CE is neither too broadly nor too narrowly defined.

Also, the proposed update more closely matches the work TVA does today: 

  • It includes TVA’s beneficial stewardship projects including habitat improvements, invasive plant removal, wetland restoration, maintenance of trails and partnership grants.
  • Work with renewable energy, transmission infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, and economic development grants are clearly identified.
  • Work TVA no longer performs, such as uranium exploration, is eliminated from the list of categorical exclusions.
  • Updates references to current TVA business units, clarifies the roles and responsibilities of these groups and staff, and other minor changes to make the procedure easier to understand.

Next Steps -The Rulemaking Process

In accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, the rulemaking process provides the public and interested parties with an opportunity to review the Proposed Rule and submit input to us. Steps in the process include:   

  • Identify what procedures need to be revised, added or removed. (Complete)
  • Make proposed revisions and consult with CEQ. (Complete)
  • Prepare and publish a ‘Notice of Proposed Rule’ in the Federal Register (Complete)
  • Public review and comment of the Proposed Rule. (Complete)
  • TVA reviews input and makes revisions to rule, as necessary.
  • TVA consults with CEQ again about public input and procedures and obtains CEQ approval.
  • TVA publishes a Notice of Final Rule in the Federal Register, which includes responses to public comments. The Final Rule codifies the procedures in the Code of Federal Regulations.

 

Related Documents

Contact

For more information contact:

Matthew Higdon
NEPA Specialist

mshigdon@tva.gov
400 West Summit Hill Drive, WT 11D
Knoxville, TN 37902