On June 7, 2013, President Obama issued a memorandum titled “Transforming our Nation’s Electric Grid Through Improved Siting, Permitting and Review.” The memo directs the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Interior (collectively the “Secretaries”) to engage in certain actions aimed at establishing energy right-of-way corridors on Federal lands (“energy corridors”) and improved transmission siting, permitting, and review processes. The memo focuses on expanding energy corridors outside those designated by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture in 2009 in 11 contiguous Western States (as defined in section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005).
With regard to the Department of Energy, President Obama’s memo specifically directs the Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to analyze current research related to renewable energy resources and grid resiliency and report back to the Steering Committee on Federal Infrastructure Permitting and Review Process Improvement (“Steering Committee”). Secretary Moniz is charged with providing a report by December 1, 2013 with recommendations on how to ensure that energy corridors in the Western States “address the need for upgraded and new electric transmission and distribution facilities to improve reliability, relieve congestion, and enhance the capability of the national grid to deliver electricity.” Secretary Moniz must provide a further report on additional states (other than Western States) by April 1, 2014.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s memo directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to provide the Steering Committee with a plan to produce both a Western corridor study and regional corridor assessments by July 12, 2013. The Western corridor study is intended to examine the efficacy of existing, designated energy corridors, while the regional corridor assessments will analyze the need for “additions, deletions, and revisions to the existing energy corridors for the Western States by region.” The plan from the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior will include timelines, milestones, existing resources, and plans for consulting with various state and federal agencies, among other items. The Secretaries must also work to analyze where energy corridors on Federal land located outside of Western States may be necessary, and report to the Steering Committee their recommendations by September 1, 2014.
In addition to energy corridors, President Obama’s memo directs the Member Agencies of the Steering Committee to develop an integrated, interagency pre-application process for “significant onshore electric transmission projects” that require Federal approval. The Member Agencies (which include the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Department of the Army) must provide a plan by September 30, 2013 to the Chief Performance Officer and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality for implementing this review process. President Obama’s memo directs Member Agencies to consult “relevant independent agencies,” including FERC, when carrying out their responsibilities.