Because the power customers are responsible for guaranteeing repayment of project costs, it is important to understand the relevant environmental processes affecting the CRSP.
The environmental impact statement process is defined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.). NEPA specifies a federal agency must formally determine through an initial environment assessment if an action will have significant environmental impact. A categorical exclusion may be obtained if no environmental impact is anticipated or if the statute allows. If the environmental assessment determines there is no significant impact, then a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is declared and the action is implemented. If the assessment finds a potential for impact, a more detailed comprehensive environmental impact statement must be done prior to implementing the federal action. The environmental study process includes public scoping meetings, the selection of a range of reasonable alternatives, evaluation of the alternatives, preparation of a draft environmental impact statement, and concludes with a record of decision. Public input usually is solicited during the scoping process, after selection of reasonable alternatives, and on the draft EIS. The lead federal agency is responsible for selection and evaluation of the alternatives, drafting the EIS, and writing the ROD.
Under the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. § et seq.), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) is charged with protecting threatened and endangered species. The USFW must do everything possible to protect these plants and animals from extinction. A process has been established to have species added to (or removed from) the threatened or endangered species list. After a species has been listed as threatened or endangered, the USFW makes an assessment of factors that are contributing to the decline in population or that could improve the habitat for the species. After the factors have been identified, USFW makes an assessment of mitigation measures required to protect the species.
USFW must assess the impact on habitat of threatened or endangered species. If USFW determines that dam operation is indeed jeopardizing the existence or habitat of the species, USFW issues a “Section 7 opinion” and mitigation measures are implemented. Mitigation measures essentially have no budgetary constraints or bounds, and in some cases the removal of dams is considered. A jeopardy opinion can be issued or modified at any time and is based on the best information available at the time the decision is made. A jeopardy opinion overrides a record of decision on an environmental impact statement and overrides other statutes or agencies’ decisions. In addition, when federal agencies take any action that “may affect” a threatened or endangered species, they are required to consult with USFW.