Executive Summary

The United States (U.S.) stands at a critical juncture in modernizing its energy infrastructure. Multiple studies estimate that a three- to four-fold increase of transmission capacity will be required to meet burgeoning demand within the next thirty years.1 So far, the U.S. has not kept pace with the challenge; in fact, there was an overall decrease in annual transmission investment for large powerlines (100 kilovolts [kV] and above) from 2010 to 2020,2 and the nation’s transmission investment requirements will reach more than $40 billion annually by 2031.3 As discussed in this report, developing sufficient transmission to meet emerging needs will require significant changes in how transmission is planned, permitted, and financed.

The rationale for bolstering high-capacity, modernized transmission lines is multifold. First, it will provide an urgently needed boost to the grid’s resilience against disruption from extreme weather, climate change, security threats, and other challenges. Second, it will accelerate the deployment of renewable and clean energy generation, enabling decarbonization. Third, transmission plays a pivotal role in alleviating grid congestion and constraints, potentially benefiting consumers by allowing lower-priced energy to flow to areas with high wholesale electricity prices.4 Finally, it supports economic development by facilitating load growth that accompanies new manufacturing and industrial facilities and the proliferation of data centers.5 Investment in transmission is a cornerstone for achieving grid reliability, economic development, energy affordability, security, resiliency, and climate objectives. On the other hand, if the U.S. does not build more transmission, new power generation resources will remain stranded in interconnection queues, aging infrastructure will become increasingly vulnerable to failure, and growth in burgeoning economic sectors will be stifled.

There are many reasons why transmission deployment has faltered in the U.S.: planning is short-sighted and uncoordinated across regions, cost allocation is contentious, and financial realities favor incremental transmission expansion at the expense of building grid-beneficial large projects, just to name a few. Federal permitting of these long, complex engineering projects is just one of multiple challenges, and for many transmission projects may be a secondary or tertiary concern relative to other barriers. Yet, according to our research, for the 3.5% of all transmission projects that underwent the most rigorous federal environmental review in the 2010s–constituting 26% of the total miles of new powerlines–federal permitting mattered.6 And for many of the hundreds of new projects that must be built across the country in the coming years, barriers to effective and expeditious federal permitting could pose significant impacts. Therefore, refinement of the federal environmental review and authorization process could play a critical role in facilitating deployment of major transmission projects–the focus of this report.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process establishes a framework whereby environmental review forms a substantial part of the record for an agency’s decision and supports greater public awareness of and participation in influencing federal actions and their potential environmental consequences. In doing so, it creates foundational community and environmental protections. NEPA implementation has evolved since the law was established in 1970, driven by updated regulations, caselaw, legislation, and government norms. The most recent changes include NEPA amendments in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA) and recent and pending updates to NEPA implementing regulations. As of the date of this report’s publication, the Department of Energy is finalizing its Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits (CITAP) Program, providing a framework for interagency coordination for transmission project environmental reviews, at the developer’s request. The full report discusses how our recommendations align with these ongoing changes to the federal environmental review process.

As it currently stands, the permitting process is frequently protracted and complex even without accounting for preparatory work required before a formal application filing. There is growing consensus across the political spectrum that processes need to be improved and strengthened, as recent and ongoing reforms make evident. However, there is currently little evidence and consolidated information to ensure these reforms are as impactful as possible for transmission permitting.

In response to this gap, the Niskanen Center (Niskanen) and Clean Air Task Force (CATF) embarked on a comprehensive study, developing an extensive evidentiary record through the compilation of a database, interviews with developers and federal officials, and in-depth case studies of identified transmission projects. This endeavor yielded critical insights, culminating in a set of recommendations addressing the identified challenges.

The results of Niskanen and CATF’s analysis underscore the importance of a reasoned approach to improving transmission permitting, while protecting the core functions of NEPA–the cornerstone of the federal permitting and environmental review process–including its coordination and information-sharing provisions which support early identification and resolution of potential conflicts during environmental review. 

It is imperative that any reforms to the federal environmental review and permitting processes for transmission be conscientiously designed to safeguard and empower impacted communities, particularly those communities historically marginalized or disproportionately affected by legacy energy infrastructure. Our recommendations are predicated on the principle that enhancing federal permitting processes need not degrade community protections or environmental integrity. On the contrary, neglecting community engagement or diminishing protections fuels uncertainty, prolongs timelines, and undermines the long-term feasibility of proposed transmission projects. The path forward is one of balance, ensuring a sustainable and inclusive energy transition. 

Our recommendations, listed below, coalesce around three principal themes. 

  1. Improving federal agency coordination, cooperation, and capacity

1.1: The President should continuously recognize transmission infrastructure permitting as a national priority. The Administration should establish clear transmission deployment goals and priorities to galvanize a shared vision across the Executive Branch. This approach should be reinforced by regular Cabinet-level alignment and coordination, use of Permitting Council authorities, and assignment of a transmission director to oversee transmission efforts. 

1.2: Congress and agencies should enhance transparency in project review and project timelines. An iterative, agile process with consistent communication among agencies, developers, and stakeholders is needed to identify and address concerns early and often. The permitting process should include interagency coordination during the pre-application phase.

1.3: Congress should invest in interagency coordination, interagency cooperation, and agency capacity. Senior agency personnel who report directly to agency decision-makers should be assigned to each major project under environmental review. Agency staff should be trained on the nuances of transmission infrastructure and interagency staffing should be dedicated to joint-agency projects. Solutions to interagency coordination shortfalls that only expand agency function or authority without providing appropriate investment to support agency coordination, cooperation, and capacity will be insufficient. Finally, Congress and agencies should continue to modernize permitting review processes, including by investing in digital tools and data platforms.

1.4: The Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (“Permitting Council”), and other agencies should require transparency and accountability through use of the Permitting Dashboard. DOE can recommend nationally and regionally significant projects, including all transmission projects requiring Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review, be added to the Dashboard. Projects should be on the Dashboard before the Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS is filed.

  1. Streamlining interactions among sovereign authorities

2.1: Federal agencies, with Congressional support, should enhance state and Tribal capacity to conduct and participate in permitting processes. Federal agencies should take a leading role in boosting state and Tribal capacity, through dedicated grant programs, technical support, and best practices sharing. Federal agencies should conduct earlier and more comprehensive engagement with Tribes, on par with federal engagement with states and developers.

2.2: Congress should consolidate permitting and siting authority for multi-state projects that are in the national public interest. Congress should grant FERC comprehensive and plenary permitting and siting powers for key transmission projects. The Streamlining Interstate Transmission of Electricity (SITE) and Clean Electricity and Transmission Acceleration (CETA) Acts serve as possible legislative models.

2.3: States should harmonize their permitting processes to create regulatory efficiency and allow more concurrent processes. Though this report centers on federal initiatives, our research unearthed opportunities for optimizing project timelines through more harmonized state permitting processes with those mandated federally. Joint state and federal environmental reviews, incorporation by reference of state or federal environmental reviews by the other jurisdictions, and project-specific memoranda of understanding (MOU) are opportunities to improve regulatory alignment. States may also participate in federal FAST-41 reviews under an MOU. To avoid unnecessary inefficiencies inherent in sequential review processes, states should revise their need and environmental review processes to be concurrent with federal reviews.

2.4: The Permitting Council should work with Chief Environmental Review and Permitting Officers (CERPOs) to advance projects and coordinate with and support local authorities. The essential NEPA function of providing information to states, Tribes, and other decision-makers provides an opportunity for CERPOs to support local authorities in making timely permitting decisions.

  1. Improving the environmental review and permitting process

3.1: Agencies and developers should conduct early, sustained, and meaningful stakeholder outreach. Timely, meaningful engagement with impacted communities must be conducted as a part of project planning, approval, and post-implementation monitoring. Government-to-government interactions with Tribes, distinct from other stakeholder consultations, are essential for respecting sovereign authorities and ensuring projects avoid unnecessary opposition and delays, highlighting the need for federal agencies to facilitate these interactions effectively from the project’s inception..

3.2: Agencies should implement robust pre-filing processes. The pre-filing process provides an opportunity to constructively debate, raise environmental and community issues, and consider alternative routes, and can streamline reviews once applications are filed. Agencies should implement agency-specific pre-filing processes and encourage applicants to opt in to pre-filing.

3.3: Developers and agencies should engage in early and collaborative identification of alternatives to be analyzed in an environmental impact statement (EIS). Project alternatives should be identified as early as possible in a collaborative process that includes relevant federal agencies, the project developer, state and local officials, Tribes, other stakeholders, and the public. Project developers and agencies can initiate and lead alternative route identification and evaluation efforts, and CEQ guidance can support these efforts.

3.4: Agencies should carefully expand categorical exclusions for transmission development. Appropriate use of categorical exclusions with adequate environmental and community safeguards for much-needed transmission projects with no significant impacts can accelerate deployment of transmission. Available categorical exclusions should be expanded for projects within existing project rights-of-way that are known to have no significant impacts.

3.5: Agencies should expand the use of programmatic EIS (PEIS) reviews for transmission infrastructure projects, and Congress should ensure that agencies have sufficient capacity to do so. PEISs can be used to identify environmental impacts common to transmission lines, and can be applied where these impacts are “well understood” given the location or nature of particular projects. PEISs could be prepared alongside Independent System Operator/Regional Transmission Organization transmission development plans. Congress should provide sufficient funding to ensure data, staff, and other resources are available to prepare useful and sufficiently detailed PEISs.

3.6: DOE and FERC should minimize environmental review redundancy for the National Interest Electricity Transmission Corridor (NIETC) process. DOE, FERC, and relevant environmental agencies must collaborate closely to streamline environmental review processes in NIETCs, ensuring that environmental protections are upheld without unnecessary duplication of efforts.


  1. See Niskanen Center, How are we going to build all that clean energy infrastructure? (Aug. 2021), https://www.niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/CATF_Niskanen_CleanEnergyInfrastructure_Report.pdf. ↩︎
  2. Dep’t of Energy, National Transmission Needs Study (Oct. 2023), https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2023-12/National%20Transmission%20Needs%20Study%20-%20Final_2023.12.1.pdf. ↩︎
  3.  Jürgen Weiss, et al., The Coming Electrification of the North American Economy: Why We Need a Robust Transmission Grid, BRATTLE GRP. (Mar. 2019), https://wiresgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2019-03-06-Brattle-Group-The-Coming-Electrification-of-the-NA-Economy.pdf. ↩︎
  4. See above note 2. ↩︎
  5. John D. Wilson & Zach Zimmerman, The Era of Flat Power Demand is Over, GRID STRATEGIES (Dec. 2023), https://gridstrategiesllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/National-Load-Growth-Report-2023.pdf. ↩︎
  6. It is essential to acknowledge that not all transmission projects require federal permits. Many can proceed under state or local regulations without any federal intervention. However, federal permits are often imperative to larger scale and inter-regional projects, as they are more likely to cross federally managed land or state borders, or require other federal action. See Natalie Manitius, Johan Cavert, Casey Kelly, Contextualizing Electric Transmission Permitting: Data from 2010 to 2020 (Mar. 2024), Clear Air Task Force and The Niskanen Center https://www.catf.us/resource/contextualizing-electric-transmission-permitting. ↩︎
  7.  EBP & Am. Soc’y Civil Eng’rs, Failure to Act: Electric Infrastructure Investment
    Gaps in a Rapidly Changing Environment (2020), https://infrastructurereportcard.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Failure-to-Act-Energy-2020-Final.pdf. ↩︎
  9. See Notice of Intent and Request for Information: Designation of National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors, 88 Fed. Reg. 30956 (May 15, 2023). ↩︎
  10. See Liza Reed & Andrew Xu, FERC is coalescing around the idea of minimum transfer capacity but needs data and definitions, NISKANEN CTR. (Sept. 8, 2022), https://www.niskanencenter.org/ferc-is-coalescing-around-the-idea-of-minimum-transfer-capacity-but-needs-data-and-definitions/. ↩︎
  11. Dep’t of Energy, DOE Announces $45 Million for Next-Generation Cyber Tools to Protect the Power Grid (Aug. 17, 2022), https://www.energy.gov/articles/doe-announces-45-million-next-generation-cyber-tools-protect-power-grid. ↩︎
  12. See above note 5. ↩︎
  13. See Exec. Order No. 14008, 86 Fed. Reg. 7619 (Feb. 1, 2021); White House Briefing Room, Fact Sheet: President Biden Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Target Aimed at Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership on Clean Energy Technologies (Apr. 22, 2021), https://www.whitehouse.gov (search in search bar for “Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction”). ↩︎
  14. Press Release, White House, Fact Sheet: New Innovation Agenda Will Electrify Homes, Businesses, and Transportation to Lower Energy Bills and Achieve Climate Goals (Dec. 14, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2022/12/14/fact-sheet-new-innovation-agenda-will-electrify-homes-businesses-and-transportation-to-lower-energy-bills-and-achieve-climate-goals/. ↩︎
  15. The Princeton ZERO Lab estimated that generation capacity will need to quadruple in order to meet forecasted future electricity demand and production needs, and transmission capacity will need to be expanded to integrate clean energy resources—such as offshore wind, onshore wind, and solar—located far from existing transmission infrastructure. REPEAT (Rapid Energy Policy Evaluation and Analysis Toolkit), PRINCETON UNIV., https://repeatproject.org/, (last visited Mar. 11, 2024); see also above note 1. ↩︎
  16. See above note 1. ↩︎
  17. See Jesse D. Jenkins, et al., , Electricity Transmission is Key to Unlock the Full Potential of the Inflation Reduction Act, PRINCETON UNIV. ZERO LAB (Sept. 2022), https://repeatproject.org/docs/REPEAT_IRA_Transmission_2022-09-22.pdf (finding that that transmission expansion is needed to maximize the benefits of investments under the newly enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act. The benefit of those investments will not be realized fully unless the United States can quickly expand enabling electric transmission infrastructure); see also above note 9. ↩︎
  18. See above note 2. ↩︎
  19. W. Elec. Coordinating Council, 10-Year Regional Transmission Plan: 2020 Study Report (Sept. 2011), https://doc.westconnect.com/Documents.aspx?NID=20390&dl=1. ↩︎
  20. See above note 3. ↩︎
  21. See above note 2. ↩︎
  22. Defined as the span from the time of submission of the interconnection request to commercial operation. Joseph Rand, et al., Queued Up: Characteristics of Power Plants Seeking Transmission Interconnection As of the End of 2022, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NAT’L LAB’Y (Apr. 2023), https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/default/files/queued_up_2022_04-06-2023.pdf. ↩︎
  23. Id. Note that there is more than one reason for this statistic – some argue that this reflects the fact that to address lack of information about system congestion prior to joining the queue, developers will submit multiple interconnection requests for every project they actually intend to build. ↩︎
  24. National Electricity Policy: Federal Government Perspectives: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Energy and Air Quality of the Comm. on Energy and Com. H.R., 107th Cong. 34-35 (2001) (statement of Francis Blake, Deputy Sec. of Energy). ↩︎
  25. Id. at 35. ↩︎
  26. 16 U.S.C. § 824p(b)(1) (2018) (section 216(a) to Federal Power Act). ↩︎
  27. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Pub. L. No 117-58, 135 Stat. 429, 933 (2021) (codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. § 824p). ↩︎
  28. 42 U.S.C. § 18715.et seq (2022). ↩︎
  29. Dep’t of Energy, Grid Deployment Office Guidance on Implementing Section 216(a) of the Federal Power Act to Designate National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (Dec. 19, 2023), https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2023-12/2023-12-15%20GDO%20NIETC%20Final%20Guidance%20Document.pdf. ↩︎
  30. Piedmont Env’l Council v. FERC, 558 F.3d 304 (4th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 558 U.S. 1147 (2010). ↩︎
  31. See Cal. Wilderness Coal. v. DOE, 631 F.3d 1072 (9th Cir. 2011). ↩︎
  32. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 clarified which federal actions are not required to undergo NEPA review, including those “with no or minimal federal involvement where a federal agency cannot control the outcome of the project,” loans or loan guarantees where the agency “does not exercise sufficient control and responsibility over the subsequent use of such financial assistance or the effect of the action.” 42 U.S.C. § 4336e(10)(B)(2023). Future rulemaking and judicial review will elucidate what levels and types of funding are excluded from NEPA review. ↩︎
  33. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (2022). The term “authorization” is defined as “any license, permit, approval, finding, determination, or other administrative decision issued by an agency that is required or authorized under Federal law in order to implement a proposed action.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.1(c) (2024). ↩︎
  34. See Congressional Research Service, The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Background and Implementation, (Jan. 2011), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL33152 at 1. ↩︎
  35. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 4342 (2022) (establishing CEQ), 4344 (CEQ duties and function). ↩︎
  36. See, e.g., DOE’s NEPA Implementing Procedures, 10 C.F.R. pt. 1021, et seq. ↩︎
  37. 40 C.F.R. §§ 1501.5-6 (2024). ↩︎
  38. 40 C.F.R. § 1501.4 (2024). ↩︎
  39. See, e.g., 10 C.F.R. pt. 1021, Subpart D (2024). ↩︎
  40. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (2022). ↩︎
  41. See above note 6 at 4. ↩︎
  42. Nat’l Elec. Mfrs. Ass’n, Siting Transmission Corridors – A Real Life Game of Chutes and Ladders, (2024), https://www.nema.org/docs/default-source/advocacy-document-library/nema_chutesandladder_2024_revised-4web.pdf. ↩︎
  43. 16 U.S.C. § 661 et seq. ↩︎
  44. 54 U.S.C. § 300101 et seq. ↩︎
  45. 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. ↩︎
  46. 36 C.F.R. § 800.8 (2024); CEQ & Advisory Council Hist. Pres., NEPA and NHPA A Handbook for Integrating NEPA and Section 106, (Mar. 2013), https://ceq.doe.gov/docs/ceq-publications/NEPA_NHPA_Section_106_Handbook_Mar2013.pdf. ↩︎
  47. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (2022). ↩︎
  48. See 42 U.S.C. § 4336a (2023). ↩︎
  49. 40 C.F.R. §§ 1500.4, 1500.5 (2024). ↩︎
  50. National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions Phase 2, 88 Fed. Reg. 49924 (July 31, 2023). ↩︎
  51. Id. at 49946. ↩︎
  52. National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions, 87 Fed. Reg. 23453 (Apr. 20, 2022). ↩︎
  53. Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, Pub. L. No. 118-5, 137 Stat. 10 (2023). ↩︎
  54. 42 U.S.C. § 4336e(10) (2023). ↩︎
  55. Id. ↩︎
  56. Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, 85 Fed. Reg. 43304 (July 16, 2020). ↩︎
  57. See 42 U.S.C. § 4336a(g) (2023). ↩︎
  58. 42 U.S.C. § 4336a(g)(3) (2023). ↩︎
  59. Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, Pub. Law. No. 114-94, § 41001-14, 129 Stat. 1312, 1741-62 (2015). ↩︎
  60. 42 U.S.C. §§ 4370m(2), 4370m-1(b)(2)(A)(iii)(I) (2022). CERPOs were created under FAST-41, but they have a broader role, including to: advise the respective agency member of the Permitting Council on matters related to environmental reviews and authorizations; act on behalf of their agency or between their agency and other federal agencies to support timely identification and resolution of potential disputes; make recommendations to their agency’s Permitting Council member for ways to improve their agency’s environmental review and decision-making process; and review and develop training programs for agency staff that support and conduct environmental reviews or authorizations. ↩︎
  61. A FAST-41 “covered” project is any infrastructure project involving a total investment of over $200 million that is subject to NEPA analysis, authorization by more than one agency, and is one of several infrastructure categories that include transmission infrastructure. To become a “covered” project, the sponsor of a qualified project must submit a FAST-41 Initiation Notice. Several transmission projects currently under federal permitting jurisdiction have initiated FAST-41 procedures as “covered” projects, and future projects should continue to qualify, assuming they exceed the $200 million threshold. According to data from Niskanen and CATF’s analysis on recently proposed and completed transmission projects in the United States, the majority of the 37 transmission projects we researched would have qualified for FAST-41 coverage. Further, under an amendment from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Executive Director of the Permitting Council can post projects other than FAST-41 covered projects to the Dashboard in the interest of transparency. Smaller transmission projects that do not meet the $200 million threshold may therefore be listed on the Dashboard at the discretion of the Permitting Council. ↩︎
  62. 42 U.S.C. § 4370m-6(a)(1) (2022). ↩︎
  63. 42 U.S.C.A. § 4370m-2(a)(3) (2022). ↩︎
  64. Permitting Council, FAST-41 and Permitting Council, at 14 (Feb. 2022), https://www.nga.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Permitting-Council-and-FAST-41-Overview_2022.pdf. ↩︎
  65. Permitting Council, FAST-41: Tangible Permitting Process Improvements on a Project-Specific Basis, https://aapa.files.cms-plus.com/PDFs/8%20FAST41%20Amber.pdf (last visited Mar. 12, 2024). ↩︎
  66. At groundbreaking for the Ten West Link transmission line, Christine Harada, then-executive director of the Permitting Council, stated that the relatively quick approval of Ten West demonstrated “the fruits of the coordination, collaboration, and transparency of the FAST-41 interagency coordination process” and “what is possible when infrastructure projects are covered by FAST-41.” Permitting Dashboard, Ten West Link Transmission Line Project Breaks Ground (updated Jan. 20, 2023), https://www.permits.performance.gov/fpisc-content/ten-west-link-transmission-line-project-breaks-ground. ↩︎
  67. 42 U.S.C. § 4370m-1(c)(1)(C)(ii)(II)(aa) (2022). ↩︎
  68. 16 U.S.C. § 824p(h) (2022). ↩︎
  69. Dep’t of Agric., Dep’t of Def., Dep’t of Energy, Env’t Prot. Agency, Council on Env’t Quality, Fed. Permitting Improvement Steering Council, Dep’t of Interior, & Off. of Mgmt. & Budget, Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Facilitating Federal Authorizations for Electric Transmission Lines (May 4, 2023), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Final-Transmission-MOU-with-signatures-5-04-2023.pdf. ↩︎
  70. The program was created under section 216(h)(4)(C) of the Federal Power Act. ↩︎
  71. 10 C.F.R. § 900.3 (2024). ↩︎
  72. See above note 69.  ↩︎
  73. Coordination of Federal Authorizations for Electric Transmission Facilities, 88 Fed. Reg. 55826, 55828 (Aug. 16, 2023); see also above note 69. ↩︎
  74. See above note 73, 88 Fed. Reg. 55826. ↩︎
  75. See, e.g., efforts from opposing sides of the aisle to speed project review, including the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the SITE Act, BIG WIRES, and the Biden Administration’s Permitting Action Plan. ↩︎
  76. See above note 6 at 3. ↩︎
  77. CEQ, Environmental Impact Statement Timelines (2010-2018) (June 12, 2020), https://ceq.doe.gov/docs/nepa-practice/CEQ_EIS_Timeline_Report_2020-6-12.pdf. ↩︎
  78. James W. Coleman, Pipelines & Power-Lines: Building the Energy Transport Future, 80 Ohio St. L.J. 264, 292 (2019) (“…while oil pipelines grab the national headlines, power-lines across the country are being held up using the same legal arguments.”), https://scholar.smu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1037&context=law_faculty. ↩︎
  79.  For a discussion of impacts of NEPA litigation on transport and energy infrastructure projects broadly, see Michael Bennon & Devon Wilson, NEPA Litigation Over Large Energy and Transport Infrastructure Projects,STANFORD UNIV. (Oct. 2, 2023) (“our goal was to directly link data on infrastructure projects to NEPA studies to lawsuits to outcomes, which has not been done before”), https://cddrl.fsi.stanford.edu/publication/nepa-litigation-over-large-energy-and-transport-infrastructure-projects. ↩︎
  80. Susan Montoya Bryan & Ken Ritter, Tribes, environmental groups ask US court to block $10B energy transmission project in Arizona, AP NEWS (Jan. 23, 2024 12:43 PM PDT), https://apnews.com/article/wind-energy-sunzia-transmission-lawsuit-f414b9c3e4d7fc0ae2aee4a0777be92f. ↩︎
  81. A preliminary injunction is a court order that can delay or stop a project’s construction or regulatory progress. ↩︎
  82. See above note 80. ↩︎
  83. For further analysis, see Olga Baranoff & Zachary Norris, A closer look at the role of litigation and opposition in transmission projects undergoing federal permitting, NISKANEN CENTER (Mar. 4, 2024), https://www.niskanencenter.org/a-closer-look-at-the-role-of-litigation-and-opposition-in-transmission-projects-undergoing-federal-permitting/. ↩︎
  84. See Appendix, List of Transmission Line Case Studies, for in-depth project reviews. ↩︎
  85. See Appendix, List of Transmission Line Case Studies, for in-depth project reviews. ↩︎
  86. “Transmission stakeholders” refers to transmission permitting experts, transmission developers, federal officials with knowledge of and experience in transmission siting and permitting, and representatives from Tribal entities and utilities. ↩︎
  87. As aptly put by Jennifer Pahlka in her book Recoding America, “Whether fed by one source or many, waterfalls determine how information, insights, agency, and power flow. The flow goes only one way: down.” JENNIFER PAHLKA, RECODING AMERICA: WHY GOVERNMENT IS FAILING IN THE DIGITAL AGE AND HOW WE CAN DO BETTER 60 (2023). This problem was also noted by legal scholar and former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior David J. Hayes: “The linear approach to federal permitting causes problems because when agencies are on the sidelines until late in the process, the project that they are finally presented with is likely to have well-defined and studies features that have been through an EIS process and have been validated by the lead agency. If these late-reviewing agencies identify a serious flaw in the project that was overlooked by, or was not in the jurisdictional purview of the lead agency, it may be too late to reorient the project to avoid that result. What might have been a relatively easy adjustment for a project proponent to make early in the permitting process, before the EIS was prepared and the lead agency completed its work, now becomes difficult or impossible.” David J. Hayes, Leaning on NEPA to Improve the Federal Permitting Process, 45 ENV’T L. REP. 10018, 10019 (2015), https://law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/publication/824999/doc/slspublic/Hayes%2025%20ELR%2010018%20Leaning%20on%20NEPA.pdf. ↩︎
  88. Delays in the NEPA process are often due to “inadequate agency budgets, staff turnover, delays receiving information from permit applicants, and compliance with other laws.” John C. Ruple, et al., Evidence-Based Recommendations for Improving National Environmental Policy Act Implementation, 47 Columbia J. ENV’T L. S (2022), https://journals.library.columbia.edu/index.php/cjel/article/view/9479. ↩︎
  89. Permitting Processes at the Department of the Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for Energy and Resource Infrastructure Projects, 115th Cong. 46-47 (2017) (testimony by Roxane Perruso, Vice President & Associate General Counsel of The Anschutz Corporation), https://www.congress.gov/115/chrg/CHRG-115shrg28096/CHRG-115shrg28096.pdf. ↩︎
  90. Id. ↩︎
  91. Permitting Council, Permitting Dashboard, https://www.permits.performance.gov/projects (last visited Mar. 12, 2024). ↩︎
  92. BLM, Record of Decision SunZia Southwest Transmission Project Right-of-Way Amendment, at 16 (May 16, 2023), https://eplanning.blm.gov/public_projects/2011785/200481766/20078613/250084795/20230517%20SunZia%20ROD_508.pdf. ↩︎
  93. On January 30, 2024, the Tohono O’odham Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe, Center for Biological Diversity, and Archaeology Southwest filed a motion for preliminary injunction, seeking to halt construction of the SunZia transmission line and alleging that BLM inadequately considered Traditional Cultural Property under the NHPA. As of the date of publication of this report, the litigation is ongoing. Pls.’ Mot. for TRO and Prelim. Inj., Request for Expedited Hr’g, and Mem. of P. & A., Tohono O’odham Nation et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior et al., No. 4:24-CV-00034 (D. Ariz. Jan. 30, 2024) (ECF No. 16). ↩︎
  94. E.g., lines that enhance national energy security and reliability, lines that facilitate efficient and sustainable energy interstate transmission from production to consumption sites, and lines that promote interregional cooperation and economic growth.  ↩︎
  95. One example, which has had some success in the transmission planning space, is the Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission, in which FERC and NARUC participate. https://www.ferc.gov/TFSOET (last updated Mar. 5, 2024). ↩︎
  96. Press Release, Dep’t of Interior, Biden-Harris Administration Approves Sixth Offshore Wind Project (Nov. 21, 2023), https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/biden-harris-administration-approves-sixth-offshore-wind-project. ↩︎
  97. Brad Plumer, Massachusetts Switches On Its First Large Offshore Wind Farm, N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 4, 2024), https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/climate/vineyard-wind-massachusetts.html. ↩︎
  98. See Renewable Energy Modernization Rule, 88 Fed. Reg. 5968 (Jan. 30, 2023). ↩︎
  99. 42 U.S.C.A. § 4336a(g)(1)(A) (2023). ↩︎
  100. See Letter from Niskanen Center to U.S. Dep’t of Energy (Oct. 2, 2023), https://www.niskanencenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Niskanen-DOE-NOPR-CITAP-Comments.pdf. ↩︎
  101. See https://www.ferc.gov/media/pre-filing-environmental-review-process (includes pre-filing
    process flowchart) (last visited Mar. 13, 2024); see generally FERC’s eLibrary, linking to pre-filing and other dockets, https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/search. ↩︎
  102. See Appendix, case studies: 2. TransWest Express Transmission Project; 6. Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Transmission System Improvement Project; 21. SunZia Southwest Transmission Project; 23. Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton Project; 28. Ten West Transmission Line Project. ↩︎
  103. See also, Jamie Pleune, Choosing between Environmental Standards and a Rapid Transition to Renewable Energy is a False Dilemma, ROOSEVELT INST. 15 (May 2023), https://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/RI_Choosing-between-Environmental-Standards-and-a-Rapid-Transition-to-Renewable-Energy-Is-a-False-Dilemma_Brief_202305-1.pdf. ↩︎
  104. 88 Fed. Reg. at 55828; see also above note 69. ↩︎
  105. White House, Building a Clean Energy Economy: A Guidebook to the Inflation Reduction Act’s Investments in Clean Energy and Climate Action (Jan. 2023), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Inflation-Reduction-Act-Guidebook.pdf.  ↩︎
  106. See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t Transp. Fed. Highway Admin., Improving Collaboration and Quality Environmental Documentation (eNEPA and IQED), https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/pdfs/factsheets/edc/edc-3_factsheet_e-nepa.pdf (last visited Mar. 13, 2024). ↩︎
  107. See Appendix, case study: 18. Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project. ↩︎
  108. See Appendix, List of Transmission Line Case Studies, for in-depth project reviews. ↩︎
  109. “Transmission stakeholders” refers to transmission permitting experts, transmission developers, federal officials with knowledge of and experience in transmission siting and permitting, and representatives from Tribal entities and utilities. ↩︎
  110. See Appendix, case study: 3. Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line ↩︎
  111. “The Department may not find the site certificate application to be complete before receiving copies of all federally-delegated permit applications and a letter or other indication from each agency responsible for issuing a federally-delegated permit stating that the agency has received the permit application, identifying any additional information the agency is likely to need from the applicant and estimating the date when the agency will complete its review and issue a permit decision.” OR. ADMIN R. 345-021-0000(6) (2024). ↩︎
  112. See Appendix, case study: 21. SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. ↩︎
  113.  Rio Grande Agric. Land Tr., Protect Our Migratory Birds: Demand SunZia Energy Bury Rio Grande Transmission Lines (Mar. 8, 2019), https://rgalt.org/protect-our-migratory-birds/. ↩︎
  114. See Appendix, case study: 37. Plains and Eastern Clean Line. ↩︎
  115. Plains and Eastern Clean Line, Project Proposal for New or Upgraded Transmission Line Projects Under Section 1222 of The Energy Policy Act of 2005, (Jul. 2010), https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/Plains%20%26%20Eastern%20Clean%20Line%20Transmission%20Project%20Application.pdf at 2. ↩︎
  116. See Order No. 9, In re Application of Plains and Eastern Clean Line LLC, No. 10-041-U, at 11 (Ark. Pub. Serv. Comm’n Jan. 11, 2011), http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/10/10-041-u_41_1.pdf at 11. ↩︎
  117. Wesley Brown, Controversial $2.5 billion Clean Line project stalled; will evaluate options, officials say, TALK BUS. & POL. (Jan. 3, 2018), https://talkbusiness.net/2018/01/controversial-2-5-billion-clean-line-project-stalled-will-evaluate-options-officials-say/. ↩︎
  118. Patrick Lantrip, Winds of Change: How massive energy project would fit into the local power structure, MEMPHIS DAILY NEWS (Jun. 3, 2017), https://www.memphisdailynews.com/news/2017/jun/3/winds-of-change/print. ↩︎
  119. Michelle Froese, NextEra acquires Oklahoma portion of Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project,
    WINDPOWER ENG’G & DEV. (Dec. 27, 2017), https://www.windpowerengineering.com/nextera-acquires-oklahoma-portion-plains-eastern-clean-line-transmission-project/. ↩︎
  120. See Appendix, case study: 1. Southline Transmission Line Project. ↩︎
  121.  For example, DOE GDO currently administers a Tribal Nation Offshore Wind Transmission Technical Assistance Program, which offers capacity building through educational resources and provides on-call assistance from experts. See more information at: https://www.energy.gov/gdo/tribal-nation-offshore-wind-transmission-technical-assistance-program. ↩︎
  122. DOE Grid Deployment Off., Transmission Siting and Economic Development (TSED) Program: What Siting Agencies Need to Know (Oct. 2023), https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2023-10/102023_TSED-SitingAuthorities.pdf. ↩︎
  123. CEQ, “Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution (ECCR): Enhancing Agency Efficiency and Making Government Accountable to the People. A Report from the Federal Forum on Environmental Collaboration and Conflict Resolution,” (May 2, 2018), https://ceq.doe.gov/docs/nepa-practice/ECCR_Benefits_Recommendations_Report_%205-02-018.pdf. ↩︎
  124. 42 U.S.C. § 4370m-1(c)(3)(B) (2022).  ↩︎
  125. 42 U.S.C. § 4370m-8(d) (2022). ↩︎
  126. 16 U.S.C. § 824p(b) (2022). ↩︎
  127. Streamlining Interstate Transmission of Electricity or “SITE Act”, S. 946, 118th Cong. (1st Sess. 2023), https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/946. ↩︎
  128. Clean Electricity and Transmission Acceleration Act of 2023, H.R.6747, 118th Cong. (1st Sess. 2023), https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-bill/6747. ↩︎
  129. See Appendix, case studies: 3. Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line; 6. Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Transmission System Improvement Project; 8. Sun Valley to Morgan Transmission Line Project; 9. Antelope Valley Station-Neset Transmission Line; 10. Central Ferry-Lower Monumental Transmission Line Project; 12. City of Tallahassee Southwestern Transmission Line; 13. Tropic to Hatch Transmission Line Project; 14. Barren Ridge Renewable Transmission Project; 16. Bemidji-Grand Rapids Transmission Line Project; 20. New England Clean Power Link; 26. Great Northern Transmission Line; 30. Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project; 31. Mona to Oquirrh Transmission Corridor Project; 34. Northern Pass Project; 35. Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline. ↩︎
  130. See, e.g., Appendix, case studies: 18. Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project and 36. San Luis Transmission Project. ↩︎
  131. Whitney Hodges, 2023 Year-in-Review CEQA Litigation, 14 NAT’L L. REV. 73 (Jan. 29, 2024), https://www.natlawreview.com/article/2023-year-review-ceqa-litigation (“Despite repeated attempts at reform by the Legislature, [CEQA] continues to be a minefield for those assigned with the herculean task of complying with the law’s myriad of directives.”); Perkins Coie LLP, Governor Newsom Proposes CEQA Reform  (May 22, 2023), https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/news-insights/governor-newsom-proposes-ceqa-reform.html. To promote efficient and effective environmental reviews, the CEQ and the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research jointly issued a Handbook for Integrating California State and Federal environmental reviews. NEPA & CEQA, Integrated Federal and State Environmental Reviews (Feb. 2014), https://ceq.doe.gov/docs/ceq-publications/NEPA_CEQA_Handbook_Feb_2014.pdf. ↩︎
  132. 40 C.F.R. § 1501.12 (2023). ↩︎
  133. See Appendix, for relevant case study: 6. Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Transmission System Improvement Project. ↩︎
  134. For example, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut entered into an MOU to coordinate their selection of offshore wind projects to maximize regional benefits and reduce costs. This kind of coordination could serve as a model for interstate coordination on transmission. See Conn., R.I., Mass., Memorandum of Understanding on Offshore Wind Multi-State Coordination (Oct. 3, 2023), https://energy.ri.gov/sites/g/files/xkgbur741/files/2023-10/MA-RI-CT%20Offshore%20Wind%20Procurement%20Collaboration%20Memorandum%20of%20Understanding%20–%20Final%2010-3-23%20CEM%20Sig%5B45%5D.pdf. See also CEQ, in collaboration with states and local jurisdictions that have environmental review processes, has been preparing memoranda which compare and contrast state and local environmental review requirements with NEPA requirements. As CEQ notes, the memoranda are “designed to…find opportunities to realize efficiencies through collaboration with state and local governments by aligning, where appropriate, combining the environmental review process, https://ceq.doe.gov/laws-regulations/States.html (last visited Mar. 13, 2024). ↩︎
  135. See Appendix, for relevant case study: 3. Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line. ↩︎
  136. For example, a bill introduced during Oregon’s 2024 legislative session would have excluded renewable energy facilities or transmission lines proposed wholly on federal lands and subject to NEPA review from additional state-level review. See HB 4090, 82nd Legislative Assembly (Oregon, 2024), https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2024R1/Measures/Overview/HB4090. ↩︎
  137. For example, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a decision in December 2023 limiting state authority to deny transmission projects that a Regional Transmission Organization had determined were needed. See Transcource Pennsylvania, LLC v. Steven M. Defrank, et al, 1:21-CV-01101 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 6, 2023), https://casetext.com/case/transource-pa-llc-v-defrank. ↩︎
  138. See Appendix, List of Transmission Line Case Studies for in-depth project reviews. ↩︎
  139. “Transmission stakeholders” refers to transmission permitting experts, transmission developers, federal officials with knowledge of and experience in transmission siting and permitting, and representatives from Tribal entities and utilities. ↩︎
  140.  See Appendix, for relevant case study: 26. Great Northern Transmission Line. ↩︎
  141. See Dep’t of Energy Grid Deployment Off., Presidential Permits,  https://www.energy.gov/gdo/presidential-permits (last visited Mar. 13, 2023). ↩︎
  142. Compared with an average of 4.3 years as indicated by findings from our data analysis, See Section C. ↩︎
  143. MINN. STAT. § 216E.03(Subd. 3a, Subd3b), requires any utility that is planning to file an application for a route permit with the Minnesota PUC for a new transmission project to notify local governmental officials within a possible route of the existence of the project and the opportunity for a pre-application meeting. ↩︎
  144. Of course, keeping in mind the pending Supreme Court case that will likely impact Chevron deference to agency decision-making. Loper Bright Enters., Inc. v. Raimondo, 45 F.4th 359 (D.C. Cir. 2022), cert. granted in part, 2023 WL 3158352 (2023) (granting the petition as to Question 2: “Whether the Court should overrule Chevron or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly
    granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.”)  ↩︎
  145. See Appendix, case studies: 1. Southline Transmission Line Project; 15. Hooper Springs Transmission Project; 17. Sigurd to Red Butte Transmission Line Project; 21. SunZia Southwest Transmission Project; 26. Great Northern Transmission Line; 28. Ten West Link Transmission Line Project; 33. Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 Transmission Line; 37. Plains and Eastern Clean Line. ↩︎
  146. Minn. Elec. Transmission Plan., Transmission Projects Report 2013 (Nov. 1, 2013),  https://www.minnelectrans.com/documents/2013_Biennial_Report/html/Ch_4_Public_Participation.htm. ↩︎
  147. Eleanor Stein & Mike O’Boyle, Siting Renewable Generation: The Northeast Perspective  (March 2017), https://energyinnovation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/siting-renewable-generation.pdf. ↩︎
  148. See above note 83. ↩︎
  149. Exec. Order No. 13175, 65 Fed. Reg. 67249 (Nov. 9, 2000); White House, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agengies on Uniform Standards for Tribal Consultation (Nov. 30, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/11/30/memorandum-on-uniform-standards-for-tribal-consultation/; https://www.achp.gov/government-to-government (last visited Mar. 13, 2024). ↩︎
  150. See Appendix, case studies: 26. Great Northern Transmission Line; 33. Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 Transmission Line. ↩︎
  151. FERC, Suggest Best Practices for Industry Outreach Programs to Stakeholder 1, 3 (Jul. 2015), https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/stakeholder-brochure.pdf. ↩︎
  152. Id. at 17. ↩︎
  153. Id. ↩︎
  154. See Applications for Permits to Site Interstate Electric Transmission Facilities, 88 Fed. Reg. 2770 (Jan 17, 2023). ↩︎
  155. See above note 73, 88 Fed. Reg. 55826. ↩︎
  156. Id. at  55828. ↩︎
  157. FERC in early 2023 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update backstop siting authority that would, if adopted, allow developers to start pre-filing process with FERC at the same time they start state permitting process (cutting down on delays if backstop siting ultimately becomes primary). See above note 154, 88 Fe. Reg. 2770. ↩︎
  158. For example, the USDA Rural Utilities Service requires applicants to submit special preliminary studies when applying for financing assistance for classes of electric generation and/or transmission projects that require preparation of an EIS. These preliminary studies are the Alternative Evaluation Study, the Site Selection Study and the Macro-Corridor Study. 7 C.F.R. § 1794.51(c) (2024). ↩︎
  159. See Appendix, case studies: 2. TransWest Express Transmission Project; 11. Vantage to Pomona Heights Transmission Line Project; 15. Hooper Springs Transmission Project; 18. Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project; 21. SunZia Southwest Transmission Project; 22. Gateway South Transmission Project-Segment F; 36. San Luis Transmission Project. ↩︎
  160. Southline Transmission Line Project Environmental Impact Statement, 81 Fed. Reg. 22076 (Apr. 14, 2016). ↩︎
  161. Id. at 22077. ↩︎
  162. As required under the FRA NEPA amendments, an EIS must consider a “reasonable range” of alternatives that includes a consideration of “any negative environmental impacts of not implementing the proposed agency action in the case of the no action alternative,” signaling the benefits of agency action. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (2022). ↩︎
  163. See USDA Rural Dev., Exhibit D-8: Guidance for Preparing a Macro-Corridor Study (Sept. 2011) https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/Macro-CorridorStudyGuidance.pdf. ↩︎
  164. National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Procedures, 88 Fed. Reg. 78681 (Nov. 16, 2023). ↩︎
  165. See Appendix, case studies: 5. Susquehanna to Roseland Transmission Line; 7. Southwest Intertie Project-South. ↩︎
  166. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.4(b) (2024). ↩︎
  167. 40 C.F.R. § 1501.11 (2024). ↩︎
  168. Aspen Inst. Energy & Env’t Program, Building Cleaner, Faster: Final Report 1 (2021), https://www.aspeninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Building-Cleaner-Faster-Final-Report.pdf. ↩︎
  169. See BLM, BLM National Register for Draft Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development PEIS/RMPA, Document No. DOI-BLM-HQ-3000-2023-0001-RMP-EIS, https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2022371/570 (last visited Mar. 13, 2024). ↩︎
  170. BLM, Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development, Doc. No. DOI-BLM-HQ-3000-2023-0001-RMP-EIS, 2-40–2-47 (Jan. 2024), https://eplanning.blm.gov/public_projects/2022371/200538533/20102762/251002762/2023%20Draft%20Solar%20PEIS%20Volume%201%201-10-2024_508compliant.pdf.  ↩︎
  171.  Letter from Oceti Sakowin Power Authority to DOEon Comments to Docket DOE–HQ–2023–0050: Coordination of Federal Authorizations for Electric Transmission Facilities, at 4 (Oct. 2, 2023), https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOE-HQ-2023-0050-0039. ↩︎
  172. See, e.g., collaboration as cooperating agencies, 40 C.F.R. 1501.8; tiering, 40 C.F.R. 1501.11; incorporation by reference, 40 C.F.R. 1501.12; and adoption, 40 C.F.R. 1506.3. ↩︎