Changes to TVA’s NEPA Procedures

Update — April 27, 2020

On March 27, 2020, TVA published in the Federal Register a Final Rule to update TVA’s procedures for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The procedures became effective on April 27, 2020, after a 30-day period.

NEPA establishes the process for identifying, considering and disclosing environmental impacts of major federal actions. TVA first established its NEPA procedures in 1980 and made minor revisions in 1983. In 2016, TVA completed an internal review of its NEPA procedures and practices and identified the need to revise its procedures. TVA consulted with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and began a formal “rulemaking process” that included gathering public input. TVA published the Notice of Proposed Rule in the Federal Register on June 8, 2017.

After considering the public’s input and additional consultation with CEQ, TVA published the Final Rule in the Federal Register on March 27, 2020. The Final Rule includes TVA’s responses to public comments. The procedures became effective on April 27, 2020, and were incorporated into Title 18 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as part of Part 1318 of Chapter XIII (Tennessee Valley Authority). See 18 CFR 1318.

Why update our procedures?

  • Clarification will promote environmental stewardship and legal compliance, leading to better decision-making.
  • Proposed updates more accurately reflect our mission, the evolving energy industry and modern communication methods.
  • Opportunities to improve business practices and reduce unnecessary paperwork.
  • Need to incorporate new guidance, directives and legal precedents that are relevant to NEPA practices.

What changes were made?

Much of TVA’s procedure for NEPA would remain the same. Under the updated procedure TVA would continue to:

  • Prepare environmental reviews according to the guidelines the White House Council on Environmental Quality establishes for all federal agencies.
  • Prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) for any major action expected to have significant or highly controversial environmental impacts. Normally that will include any large water resource development and water control projects (like construction of new dams or navigation locks) and new major power generating facilities proposed at sites not previously used for industrial purposes.
  • Prepare environmental assessments (EA) for any proposed activities that don’t qualify for categorical exclusion or where the environmental effects are uncertain.
  • Complete an environmental review checklist for most actions when considering whether it qualifies for a categorical exclusion.
  • Educate and inform the public during EISs and EAs, as appropriate, using modern communications methods. These include public open houses, presentations, briefings, news releases, web site posting direct mail, social media, webinars and streaming meetings.

TVA’s list of Categorical Exclusions (CEs) was updated to cover the small projects and routine work that TVA needs to do.

  • CEs are for actions found to have no significant individual or cumulative environmental effect (under normal circumstances) and for which more in-depth environmental reviews are unnecessary.
  • CEs are not exemptions or waivers from NEPA review, they are simply a third type of NEPA review.
  • Slight or no changes have been made to 19 existing CEs. We removed 9 CEs that are rarely used (e.g., uranium exploration) or replaced them with new CEs.
  • 31 new CEs have been added to better describe TVA’s small tasks, repetitive actions and routine work.
  • For most activities that could qualify for a CE, TVA specialists will continue to complete a 60-question checklist, often performing field visits to verify there are no extraordinary circumstances associated with a proposed activity.
  • As TVA has always done, some routine activities with no potential for environmental effects (e.g., training personnel, changing a bathroom faucet) would not require paperwork to check for environmental effects.
  • Even for categorically excluded activities, TVA must comply with other applicable laws and requirements, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.

The updated procedures include new limitations on the amount of work that can qualify for categorical exclusion.

  • Many new proposed categorical exclusions contain limits on distance or area (for example, no more than approximately 10 acres) that can be affected in a project that qualifies for a checklist. CEQ recommends that federal agencies include these constraints to ensure that the CE is neither too broadly nor too narrowly defined.
  • A more detailed environmental review would be required if extraordinary circumstances exist, such as possible harm to historic resources, or potentially significant impacts to wetlands. The update expands the list of extraordinary circumstances.

Also, the updated procedures more closely match the work TVA does today:

  • It includes TVA’s beneficial stewardship projects including habitat improvements, invasive plant removal, wetland restoration, maintenance of trails and partnership grants.
  • Work with renewable energy, transmission infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, and economic development grants are clearly identified.
  • It also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of these groups and staff, and other minor changes to make the procedure easier to understand.

Documentation Supporting Changes to Categorical Exclusions

The document below titled Categorical Exclusions Supporting Documentation (February 2020) contains a Summary of Proposed Changes to Categorical Exclusions table that details which CEs are being eliminated, modified or added. The supporting documentation lists reasons for proposing activities for categorical exclusion. The document is meant to provide a summary of the factors relied upon during development of the proposed CEs and to describe the basis upon which each proposed CE was established.

The Rulemaking Process

In accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, the rulemaking process provides the public and interested parties with an opportunity to review the Proposed Rule and submit input to us. The steps taken by TVA in the process include:

  • TVA identified which procedures need to be revised, added or removed.
  • TVA made proposed revisions and consulted with CEQ.  
  • TVA published a ‘Notice of Proposed Rule’ in the Federal Register (June 8, 2017).
  • Public review and comment of the Proposed Rule.
  • TVA reviewed input and made revisions to the rule, as necessary.
  • TVA consulted with CEQ again about public input and procedures and obtained CEQ approval (February 19, 2020).
  • TVA published a Notice of Final Rule in the Federal Register, which includes responses to public comments (March 27, 2020). The Final Rule codifies the procedures in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • TVA’s revised procedures made effective on April 27, 2020, after a 30-day period. 

Related Documents:

TVA NEPA Procedures (18 CFR 1318) (PDF, 0.2 mb)

Summary of Proposed Changes to Categorical Exclusions

Categorical Exclusions Supporting Documentation (February 2020) (PDF, 2.6mb)

Federal Register Notice of Final Rule (March 27, 2020)

TVA Responses to Public Comments on Proposed Rule

Council on Environmental Quality Letter of Conformity (February 19, 2020)

Federal Register Notice of Proposed Rule (June 8, 2017) (PDF, 0.3mb)

Federal Register Notice (July 28, 2017) (PDF, 0.2mb)

Comments Received on the Proposed Rule (PDF, 7.5mb)

Contact

More information on this environmental review can be obtained from:

Matthew Higdon
NEPA Specialist
mshigdon@tva.gov
865-632-8051
400 West Summit Hill Drive, WT 11D
Knoxville, TN 37902