Saying that the five-year timeline to complete
a National Environmental Policy Act process for the federal Columbia River
power system’s impact on salmon and steelhead is aggressive, federal agencies
this week also said they would continue to target completion of the process --
which includes an environmental impact statement -- with a record of decision
by September 24, 2021.
A filing in Oregon U.S. District Court October
30 is the first court-required update since the agencies in September completed
the scoping part of the five-year process.
A NEPA process was a requirement in the May
2016 remand by federal Judge Michael H. Simon of the 2014 NOAA biological
opinion for Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead in the
Columbia/Snake river basin affected by federal dams and reservoirs.
In the July 6, 2016 Order of Remand, the court
ordered the federal defendants – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the
Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – to file a
status report of progress toward a completed NEPA process by October 30, 2017.
“The process is presently on track with the
five-year timeline proposed by Federal Defendants and adopted by the Court,”
the court filing says. “However, the robust participation of the public and
interested stakeholders, and the complexity of the issues raised during the
scoping period, has confirmed that this timeline is aggressive. Nonetheless,
the Federal Defendants continue to target completion of the NEPA process
consistent with the schedule adopted by the Court.”
The status report, according to the court’s
order, should address the appropriateness of the remaining schedule after the
scoping process and how the agencies intend to integrate and coordinate the
NEPA process with the Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation on
threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin.
The 5-year process under NEPA to produce an
EIS was put into motion by Simon in May 2016 when he remanded the latest 2014
NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion governing river operations to protect salmon
and steelhead throughout the Columbia River basin.
Simon gave the operating agencies five years
to complete the process, although he expects a new BiOp from the operating
agencies and NOAA Fisheries in 2018, and another BiOp when the NEPA process is
complete in 2021.
The operating agencies say in the update that
they have been balancing compliance with the NEPA remand schedule with
competing obligations, such as the court-ordered spill for fish injunction
process, also ordered by Simon.
The request for injunctive relief for more
spill by the National Wildlife Foundation and the State of Oregon, with the
support of the Nez Perce Tribe in January 2017 was enjoined with the BiOp remand
The groups asked the court to begin ordering
spill to maximum total dissolved gas levels beginning April 3 this year and to
continue for each year of the BiOp remand.
Simon agreed with the plaintiffs that spill
earlier in the year at the dams would benefit ESA-listed salmon and steelhead,
but held off on ordering that spill until 2018, saying it was “too rushed,”
giving federal agencies time to plan for operational changes at the dams
resulting from the earlier spill schedule.
For the NEPA scoping process, the federal
agencies held 16 public meetings and two webinars across the region during
public scoping where the public could ask questions in person and contribute
their comments on what should be included in the EIS. They received over
The comments addressed over 24 broad
categories of topics, including climate change, flood risk management, water
supply and irrigation, anadromous and resident fish, dam configuration and
operational impacts on threatened and endangered fish, invasive and nuisance
species, the NEPA process, Natural Historic Preservation Act compliance and
river navigation, among other topics.
“The three agencies acknowledge the effort
extended by the public across the region, country, and internationally to
provide the thoughtful and deliberate input summarized in this report,”
according to the Columbia River Systems webpage at http://www.crso.info/. More
information on the scoping results is at http://www.crso.info/eis.html.
In addition to the public, 16 federal, state
and tribal entities were invited to participate in comments.
With the scoping meetings and comment period,
the agencies completed step two of the $40 million process that began in
September 2016. The step-by-step process is scoping, developing alternatives
for evaluation, analysis of the alternatives, a draft EIS (2020), public
comment, review and synthesis of the draft EIS, preparing a final EIS with
preferred alternative, a final EIS and a Record of Decision.
In the update, the agencies laid out their
schedule, the same schedule outlined in July 2016 Order of Remand:
Complete scoping: September 30, 2017
Complete the Draft EIS: March 27, 2020
Complete the Final EIS: March 26, 2021
Issue a Records of Decision: September 24,
The agencies also identified the method and a
schedule of how they will work with fish and wildlife agencies to integrate the
NEPA process with a new BiOp process.
That process by court order includes a BiOp
that must be completed by NOAA Fisheries by December 31, 2018.
A second BiOp will coincide with the
completion of the NEPA process in 2021.
The federal agencies say in the update that
they will be engaged in consultation with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service throughout the NEPA process, especially as they develop
alternatives for consideration in the draft EIS.
Once the draft EIS is published and is out for
public comment, the agencies will initiate formal consultation with NOAA
That, they say, will result in a biological
opinion and a record of decision in 2021.
“In short, while still in the early stages,
Federal Defendants are confident that the rigorous, comprehensive, and
inclusive NEPA process they have initiated is progressing towards Federal
Defendants’ ultimate goal: the identification of a long-term strategy for the
operation and configuration of the Federal Columbia River Power System that
complies with all applicable laws, including NEPA and the ESA.”
A BiOp status conference is scheduled November
--CBB, June 23, 2017, “Litigants In Salmon
BiOp Case Working Together To Develop Court-Ordered Spill-For-Fish Plan In
--CBB, May 19, 2017, “Spill Advocates, Federal
Agencies Agree To Status Conference Schedule, Protocol In Salmon BiOp Case,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438950.aspx
-- CBB, April 7, 2017, “Court Order Requires
Earlier Spill For Salmon In 2018; Orders Design Study, Monitoring,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438675.aspx
--CBB, March 3, 2017, “Agencies Receive Over
250,000 Comments On Scoping For Upcoming EIS On Columbia/Snake Hydro System,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438422.aspx
CBB, January 6, 2017, “Comment Period Extended
For Feds’ Scoping On New EIS For Columbia/Snake River Hydro System,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438159.aspx
--CBB, December 16, 2016, “Scoping Meetings On
Basin Salmon/Steelhead EIS End; Next Step Developing Alternatives For
--CBB, December 2, 2016, “Irrigators Petition
Trump Transition Team For ‘God Squad’ Intervention In Salmon BiOp Remand,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438042.aspx
--CBB, November 18, 2016, “Hundreds Turn Out
For Lewiston Federal Scoping Meeting Regarding Draft EIS For Snake River Dams,”
-- CBB, Oct. 7, 2016, “Agencies Seek Public
‘Scoping’ Comments For EIS Related To New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery
-- CBB, May 6, 2016, “Federal Court Again
Rejects Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan; Orders New BiOp By