Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) released its final rule to establish the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits Program (CITAP). This is a significant step toward improving the federal transmission permitting process. CITAP should help resolve some of the critical challenges identified in our recent report on overcoming barriers in federal transmission permitting, including the urgent need for increased interagency harmonization, coordination, and the importance of comprehensive pre-application processes that encourage communication and engagement among developers, agencies, and impacted communities. Successful implementation will be vital to advancing an integrated and more effective federal permitting program (especially, as noted by DOE, for the more long-distance linear transmission lines).

What is CITAP?

CITAP aims to streamline the complex status quo for federal transmission permitting by integrating interagency efforts and simplifying the environmental review process. It implements authorities granted to DOE by section 216(h) of the Federal Power Act, which made DOE the lead coordinating agency for interstate transmission permitting. CITAP builds on the foundational 2023 interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)—one of the most comprehensive federal MOUs in recent decades—which outlined DOE as the lead authority responsible for coordinating all necessary federal authorizations and related environmental reviews for the siting of interstate transmission facilities. CITAP also follows stipulations in the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) of 2023, including mandating 2-year timelines for environmental reviews and engagement processes.

  1. Centralized Coordination: DOE will lead the coordination of all federal authorizations. This includes requiring that all relevant agencies coordinate their reviews—centralizing the creation of a single Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which eliminates potentially redundant efforts across agencies. 
  1. Standardized Schedule:  It establishes a standard schedule to frame and guide the creation of project-specific timelines for each transmission project, ensuring that permitting reviews adhere to the two-year mandate outlined in the FRA.

  2. Integrated Pre-Application Process: An Integrated Interagency Pre-application (IIP) process will facilitate early engagement among developers, communities, and public stakeholders, aiming to address concerns and enhance the permitting process’s efficiency proactively.

Integration of Niskanen CITAP comments:

DOE adopted some of Niskanen’s suggested amendments and responded directly to some of Niskanen’s comments on the final rule, which were filed during the public comment period in October 2023, including the following:

  • Niskanen proposed adopting several factors when determining whether a proposed transmission facility is “regionally or nationally significant,” of which DOE adopted three:  whether a proposed project will “reduce congestion costs, mitigate uncertainty, and enhance supply diversity.”
  • DOE, in response to Niskanen’s comments, revised its proposed Resource Report 11. These revisions include confirmation that only the resource report requires an alternative analysis; thus avoiding potential confusion and waste of resources.
  • In response to Niskanen’s comment that the administrative docket should be public to promote well-informed and efficient decision-making, DOE “agrees that the public should have access to the administrative docket […] and [u]pon request, any member of the public may be provided materials included in the docket.” 

While the DOE should have gone further regarding adopting a public docket because it lessens the chances of protracted litigation, miscommunication, and inequitable siting practices, DOE should nonetheless be commended for its commitment to making materials publicly available on request. 

Use of Transmission data:

DOE references data Niskanen compiled in another recent joint report and data analysis with CATF, “Contextualizing electric transmission permitting: data from 2010 to 2020,” noting that the program aims to cut the average time to site and permit transmission projects almost in half. Our report consisted of synthesizing data on transmission line projects that had gone through federal permitting review and comparing outcomes with all transmission lines added to the bulk power system in the same ten-year period. Our data showed that, on average, it took 4.3 years from NOI to ROD for the 37 transmission projects surveyed that went through an EIS review. Four of these projects were eventually canceled and are not included in the data analysis. The remaining 33 projects represent 3.5% of all new transmission lines but 26% of all new line miles added to the bulk power system during that decade, exemplifying the importance of effective federal transmission permitting. In addition, our comprehensive dataset provides important quantitative and qualitative statistics on transmission lines, centralizing information that is often scattered and difficult to obtain. This is further complemented by our in-depth case studies on each of the 37 lines, which are in our recommendations report’s extensive appendix.

Remaining challenges and path forward:

The successful implementation of CITAP is paramount, and its impact will be gauged by its adoption and use in forthcoming interstate transmission projects. Equally crucial is DOE leadership and agencies’ focus on evolving the review process to fully reap the potential of this program. Furthermore, ongoing assessments and adjustments will be necessary to refine processes and ensure the program responds to the energy sector’s evolving needs. Our report presents a comprehensive set of recommendations and recognizes that there is no instant solution to transmission permitting. However, with each step, we are progressing toward a more effective and efficient process, including with federal initiatives and leadership like CITAP.

CITAP is crucial to modernizing our national energy infrastructure and achieving a streamlined, efficient, and inclusive federal permitting process. Its potential to impact U.S. capacity to meet future energy demands reliably and sustainably is significant. The Niskanen Center stands steadfast in its commitment to bolstering these endeavors, providing data-driven insights and recommendations to navigate this evolving landscape.