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Dec 8 -- In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA), and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) intends to prepare resource management plan (RMP) amendments with an associated programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for the BLM's utility-scale solar energy planning and by this notice is announcing the beginning of the scoping period to solicit public comments and identify issues and is providing the planning criteria for public review.

The BLM requests that the public submit comments concerning the scope of the analysis, potential alternatives, and identification of relevant information, and studies by February 6, 2023. To afford the BLM the opportunity to consider comments in the Draft programmatic EIS/RMP amendments, please ensure your comments are received prior to the close of the 60-day scoping period or 15 days after the last public meeting, whichever is later.

Through this notice, the BLM announces its intention to initiate a programmatic EIS for renewable energy development in Western States and associated RMP amendments, as appropriate. The programmatic EIS will predominately evaluate the environmental effects of potential modifications to improve and expand the BLM's utility-scale solar energy planning and may involve land use allocation modifications related to other renewable energy development types, such as wind energy. The BLM is issuing this Notice of Intent to inform the public about the proposed actions; announce plans to conduct 14 public scoping meetings; invite public participation in the scoping process; solicit public comments for consideration in establishing the scope and content of the programmatic EIS and alternatives; and identify potential environmental issues. The BLM will consult with Indian Tribal Nations on a government-to-government basis as described in the Additional Information section of this notice.
 
In October of 2012, the BLM signed the Western Solar Plan Record of Decision (Western Solar Plan) implementing solar energy policies, procedures, and land use plan amendments related to permitting of solar energy developments on public lands in six Southwestern States (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah). . . .  
 
Updating the BLM's solar energy planning would advance the goals of recent Executive Order 14008 and the Energy Act of 2020. In Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, the President ordered the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to “review siting and permitting processes on public lands” with a goal of increasing “renewable energy production on those lands . . . while ensuring robust protection for our lands, waters, and biodiversity and creating good jobs.” The Energy Act of 2020 directs the Secretary to “seek to issue permits that, in total, authorize production of not less than 25 gigawatts of electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects by not later than 2025, through management of public lands and administration of Federal laws.” 43 U.S.C. 3004(b).

In the 10 years since the Western Solar Plan was issued, the BLM has recognized that updating and expanding the Solar Energy Program would be appropriate to advance current and future renewable energy goals and to support conservation and climate priorities. The 2012 Western Solar Plan facilitated solar development applications for locations within the public lands where the landscape was generally flat, direct sunlight was ample, and high-value resources would not be significantly impacted. Due to technological advancements and reduced costs in photovoltaic systems, the BLM has received continued interest from photovoltaic solar developers in locations that were allocated as exclusion areas, under the Western Solar Plan, based on exclusion criteria for slope or solar insolation values. The purpose of this programmatic EIS and associated RMP amendments is to focus the BLM's utility-scale solar energy planning on resource management on BLM-administered lands rather than specifying technology-based criteria for solar development on public lands; expand the Program to additional states; increase opportunities for responsible renewable energy development in priority and variance areas; and develop appropriate criteria to exclude high-value resource areas from renewable energy development. The programmatic EIS will also consider and adjust policy or procedural elements of how the bureau planning for utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands where appropriate.
 
The draft programmatic EIS will analyze a suite of potential modifications and updates to the Western Solar Plan to be fully developed after considering input received during the scoping period.

The BLM will develop and analyze alternatives that will include a range of proposed modifications and updates to some or all of the aspects of the BLM's solar energy planning summarized below. The BLM has not yet selected a preferred alternative for any aspect of the programmatic EIS.

Study Area:

The Western Solar Plan was limited to six Western States (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah) based on initial resource assessments showing those states encompassed the most prospective solar energy resources suitable for utility-scale development over the next 20 years as of 2012. Advancements in technology, updated resource information, and shifts in energy market economics have resulted in the need for an updated assessment for renewable energy planning. Additional Western States appear to have available solar energy resources on public lands that would be suitable for development in the coming decades. The BLM intends that at least one proposed alternative in the programmatic EIS would include the 11 Western States (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), or portions thereof. The BLM is interested in feedback on the appropriate scope of the study area and may reduce the number of states included prior to developing the draft programmatic EIS.

The BLM will consider the extent to which lands covered by the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, an interagency landscape-scale planning effort covering 22.5 million acres in seven southern California counties, should be included in the study area. The BLM will also consider the extent to which lands in Arizona, covered by the Restoration Design Energy Project, should be included in the study area for the programmatic EIS. . . .

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2022-26659

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