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Dec 26 -- Comment period extended to January 16, 2024. https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-28429

Nov 16 -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or the Department) proposes to amend its implementing procedures (regulations) governing compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposed changes would add a categorical exclusion for certain energy storage systems and revise categorical exclusions for upgrading and rebuilding transmission lines and for solar photovoltaic systems, as well as make conforming changes to related sections of DOE's NEPA regulations. The proposed changes are based on the experience of DOE and other Federal agencies, current technologies, regulatory requirements, and accepted industry practice. DOE invites public comments on the proposed changes.

DOE must receive comments by January 2, 2024 to ensure consideration.

In this proposed rulemaking, DOE proposes to add a categorical exclusion for certain energy storage systems and revise categorical exclusions for upgrading and rebuilding transmission lines and for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, as well as make conforming changes to related sections of DOE's NEPA regulations. DOE last made changes to its categorical exclusions in these areas in 2011 (76 FR 63764; October 13, 2011). Since then, DOE has developed a better understanding of the potential environmental impacts of these types of actions through research, conducting environmental reviews, and engaging with industry, local communities, and other government agencies. The proposed changes are based on the experience of DOE and other Federal agencies, current technologies, regulatory requirements, and accepted industry practice. DOE consulted with CEQ during the development of these proposed changes.

DOE has documented the technical substantiation for the proposed changes in this preamble and in an accompanying Technical Support Document. The Technical Support Document summarizes environmental assessments for the types of projects addressed in this proposed rulemaking and other information. The environmental assessments demonstrate how DOE and other Federal agencies evaluated potential environmental impacts of these projects and determined that they would not result in a significant environmental effect. To be clear, not every environmental assessment discussed in the Technical Support Document reflects a project that would have qualified for a categorical exclusion proposed in this rulemaking. Such determinations would have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

DOE developed its support for this proposed rulemaking consistent with CEQ's 2010 guidance on establishing, applying, and revising categorical exclusions under NEPA (75 FR 75628; December 6, 2010). DOE also considered climate impacts and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in preparing these proposals consistent with CEQ's 2023 interim guidance on the consideration of GHG emissions and climate change (88 FR 1196; January 9, 2023). The description of the proposed changes in section II of this document includes a discussion of how the proposed changes may affect GHG emissions.

The public made suggestions for revising DOE's categorical exclusions in response to a Request for Information (RFI) published in the Federal Register on November 15, 2022. (87 FR 68385). Those suggestions, along with others made by DOE's NEPA Compliance Officers and other staff, led to the proposals included in this proposed rulemaking. DOE evaluated the proposals by reviewing environmental assessments prepared by DOE and by other Federal agencies, categorical exclusions established by other Federal agencies, technical reports, applicable requirements and industry practices, and other publicly available information.

Thirty-three individuals or entities responded to the Request for Information. The Request for Information and these comments are available at www.regulations.gov/​docket/​DOE-HQ-2023-0002/​comments.

Relevant to this proposed rulemaking, commenters asked DOE to add energy storage systems to its categorical exclusions, to expand the scope of its categorical exclusion for upgrading and rebuilding powerlines, and to expand its categorical exclusion for solar photovoltaic systems to at least 200 acres within previously disturbed or developed areas. DOE addresses these and related comments in its discussion of proposed changes in section II.B of this document. . . .

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-25174 [11 pages]

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