Frequently Asked Questions

DOE's Presidential Permit Responsibilities and Role

DOE's Environmental Review Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The Northern Pass Application Proceeding

Northern Pass EIS Website

DOE's Presidential Permit Responsibilities and Role

Q. Why is DOE involved in Northern Pass's proposal to build a transmission facility?

A. Anyone seeking to construct, operate, maintain, or connect an electric transmission facility crossing the borders of the United States must first obtain a Presidential permit issued by DOE under Executive Order (E.O.) 10485, as amended by E.O. 12038. Northern Pass proposes to build a transmission line that crosses a U.S. border, and has applied to DOE for a Presidential permit. DOE did not initiate, nor is it funding, the proposed transmission facility. DOE’s role is limited to deciding whether to issue a Presidential permit for the border crossing. Northern Pass must obtain the approval of the State of New Hampshire, among others, to build its proposed facility.

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Q. What factors will DOE consider in determining whether to issue the Presidential permit? How will DOE determine whether to issue the Presidential permit?

A. E.O. 10485, as amended by E.O. 12038, authorizes the Secretary of Energy, “pon finding the issuance of the permit to be consistent with the public interest, and, after obtaining the favorable recommendations of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense thereon, to issue to the applicant, as appropriate, a permit for [the] construction, operation, maintenance, or connection” of “facilities for the transmission of electric energy between the United States and a foreign country.” Thus, in deciding whether to issue a permit, DOE must determine whether doing so would be “consistent with the public interest.” In addition, the Departments of State and Defense must both make “favorable recommendations” on the issuance of the permit.

In deciding whether the issuance of a Presidential permit would be consistent with the public interest, DOE assesses the environmental impacts of the proposed project and reasonable alternatives, the impact of the proposed action on electric reliability, and any other factors that DOE may also consider relevant to the public interest. DOE will consider public comments on all aspects of its public interest determination, and will announce its decision whether to issue a permit – as well as the factors DOE considered in making its decision – in the Record of Decision (ROD).

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Q. Does DOE ever issue a Presidential permit subject to conditions or require changes in the application? Does DOE deny permit applications?

A. DOE thoroughly reviews each application for a Presidential permit. DOE regularly sets conditions (such as reliability limitations or mitigation measures) for permits. In addition, DOE often requires changes to the applicant’s original proposal. There have been at least nine instances where a permit applicant has withdrawn its application voluntarily prior to DOE making a decision on the application.

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DOE's Environmental Review Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Q. What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)?

A. For major Federal actions that may significantly affect the quality of the human environment, NEPA requires preparation of an EIS. An EIS is a detailed analysis of the potential environmental impacts of a proposed action, a no action alternative, and the range of reasonable alternatives.

Both the White House Council on Environmental Quality and DOE have issued regulations (40 CFR Parts 1500–1508 and 10 CFR Part 1021, respectively) and guidance regarding the preparation of an EIS and NEPA implementation more generally. These materials are available on the DOE NEPA Website at nepa.energy.gov.

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Q. Why is an EIS needed for the Northern Pass Transmission Line Project?

A. Northern Pass’s proposed transmission line would cross a U.S. border, and therefore cannot be built without a Presidential permit. Although issuance of a Presidential permit is a Presidential action, to which requirements of NEPA do not apply, DOE nonetheless follows NEPA requirements in deciding whether to issue a Presidential permit. Given the scope and breadth of Northern Pass’s proposed project, DOE has determined that the appropriate level of NEPA review is an EIS. DOE issued its Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS on February 11, 2011 (76 FR 7828).

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Q. What alternatives are analyzed in the Northern Pass Transmission Line Project draft EIS?

A.The draft EIS analyzes potential environmental impacts of the proposed action (as described in the amended Presidential permit application filed by Northern Pass on July 1, 2013), reasonable alternatives to Northern Pass’s proposal, and a No Action Alternative. For a summary of the alternatives DOE analyzed in the draft EIS, see the Summary. To see maps of the alternatives, refer to Appendix A.

No Action Alternative. The draft EIS analyzes the environmental impacts if DOE were to deny the permit application and the proposed Northern Pass transmission line were not constructed. The No Action Alternative provides a baseline for considering the potential environmental impacts of the other alternatives.

Proposed Action. The draft EIS analyzes the potential environmental impacts of constructing and operating the transmission line as proposed by Northern Pass in its amended Presidential permit application filed on July 1, 2013. Subsequent to issuance of the draft EIS, Northern Pass submitted an amended application.

Reasonable Alternatives. The draft EIS analyzes the potential environmental impacts of reasonable alternatives, including alternative routes, for the transmission line. The draft EIS identified the reasonable alternatives based on information from Northern Pass, scoping comments, and review of the proposal by DOE and cooperating agencies. Subsequent to issuance of the draft EIS, Northern Pass submitted an amended application. In November 2015, DOE prepared a Supplement to the Draft Northern Pass Transmission Line Project Environmental Impact Statement which analyzed an additional action alternative, Alternative 7, in response to Northern Pass’s amended application.

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Q. What types of environmental impacts are analyzed in the Northern Pass Transmission Line Project?

A. For each reasonable alternative, DOE will analyze impacts across the full spectrum of resource areas, such as:

  • Air Quality: Potential air quality impacts, including climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Water Resources: Potential effects of groundwater withdrawals and water use.
  • Geography, Geology, and Soils: Potential effects on existing geography, geology, and soils.
  • Land Use: Potential effects on land uses.
  • Ecological: Potential onsite and offsite impacts to vegetation, terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, threatened and endangered species, and ecologically sensitive habitats.
  • Public Health and Safety: Construction and operation-related safety, process safety, and management of process chemicals and materials.
  • Noise: Potential impacts such as from construction activities.
  • Hazardous Materials: Pollution prevention and waste management issues, including potential impacts from the generation, treatment, transport, storage, and management of wastes.
  • Visual Resources: Potential aesthetic impacts to existing visual resources.
  • Floodplains: Potential impacts (e.g., impeding floodwaters, re-directing floodwaters, possible property damage) of siting structures in floodplains.
  • Wetlands: Potential effects to wetlands.
  • Socioeconomic Impacts: Potential congestion and other impacts to local traffic patterns; socioeconomic impacts on public services and infrastructure (e.g., police protection, schools, and utilities); and environmental justice issues with respect to nearby communities.
  • Cultural and Historical Resources: Potential impacts to cultural, archeological, and other historical resources.
  • Cumulative Effects: Incremental impacts of the proposed project or alternatives that, when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions may have potentially significant impacts on the environment.

The level of analysis of each resource area in the EIS is prepared in accordance with the potential significance of impacts. The draft EIS evaluated scoping comments to help determine the full range of potential environmental impacts to analyze, and the final EIS evaluates and responds to all public comments made on the draft EIS in Appendix L to the document.

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Q. I have heard that being an intervener and becoming a party to a Presidential permit case does not give the party any special privileges in the EIS process. Is that true and, if it is, why is that the case?

A. NEPA provides for broad public participation in the environmental review of a proposed federal action. NEPA review is not an adjudication or trial, and NEPA does not require intervention for an interested stakeholder to participate. There are no contesting “parties” and everyone is encouraged to participate in the NEPA review.

NEPA provides for extensive public participation in the preparation of an EIS through comments on the scope of the EIS and then on a draft EIS. Comments may be provided orally at public meetings and hearings or in writing. Moreover, DOE considers and responds to all comments submitted on the draft EIS, even if a comment is submitted anonymously. In the context of a Presidential permit application proceeding, DOE treats intervener filings as NEPA comments to the extent that DOE determines the comment relates to potential environmental impacts.

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Q. When was the scoping period?

A. The NEPA public scoping period began on February 11, 2011, following the DOE’s publication of the NOI (76 FR 7828). DOE reopened and extended the scoping period several times with it ultimately closing on November 5, 2013 (76 FR 21,338, 76 FR 34,969 and 78 FR 54,876). DOE held seven public scoping meetings in March 2011 and another four public scoping meetings in September 2013. Overall, the public scoping period remained open almost continuously from February 11, 2011 through November 5, 2013.

DOE received over 3,000 scoping comments. Commenters expressed concerns over a broad range of topics, including, but not limited to, the range of alternatives to be considered in the EIS, potential socioeconomic impacts in the region, potential visual impacts, the agencies’ purpose and need, the NEPA process, potential impacts to wildlife, and potential impacts to tourism.

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Q. What is contained in the scoping report? What is contained in the scoping report alternatives addendum?

A. DOE’s longstanding practice for Presidential permit applications is to develop a scoping report that summarizes the NEPA comments, both written and oral, received during the scoping process. The scoping report was published on March 12, 2014 and is available here. DOE considered the scoping comments in defining the range of reasonable alternatives and potential environmental impacts analyzed in the draft EIS. On May 1, 2014, DOE issued a Scoping Report Alternatives Addendum, and it is available here. The Scoping Report Alternatives Addendum summarized the alternatives that DOE had identified to date for analysis in the draft EIS.

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Q. Did DOE consider my scoping comments when it prepared the draft EIS?

A. DOE considered all scoping comments in its preparation of the draft EIS.

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Q. How will I know when the draft EIS is available for me to review? How long will I have to comment on the draft EIS?

A. EPA published a Notice of Availability of the draft EIS on July 31, 2015. The Notice of Availability announced that the public comment period on the draft EIS would end on October 29, 2015 (80 FR 45,652). DOE released a Supplement to the draft EIS in November 2015. Comments on the draft EIS and the Supplement were accepted through April 4, 2016, and the comment period is now closed.

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Q. How do I comment on the draft EIS?

A. Comments on the draft EIS and Supplement to the draft EIS could be submitted to DOE by mail, fax, email or through the comment form on the Northern Pass EIS website, and comments could be provided verbally or in writing at the scheduled public hearings. The comment period on the draft EIS and the Supplement to the draft EIS was open from July 31, 2015 through April 4, 2016. Comments submitted after that date were considered to the extent practicable. Public hearings on the draft EIS and Supplement were held in March 2016. The comment period for the draft EIS is now closed.

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Q. How can I be sure that DOE will consider my comments on the draft EIS when it prepares the final EIS?

​A. The comment period for the draft EIS closed on April 4, 2016. Comments submitted after that date were considered to the extent practicable. The final EIS includes a Comment Response Document that will contain descriptions of the public comment process and agency and public comments. Additionally, the final EIS will include an Attachment, Response to All Comments on the Draft EIS. The comments received during the comment period are reproduced in the Attachment along with DOE’s response to the comments.

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Q. What is the process for developing a final EIS?

A. DOE is now preparing the final EIS. In the final EIS, DOE will consider and respond to comments it received on the draft EIS (both written and oral comments). EPA will announce the availability of the final EIS in the Federal Register, and the Final EIS will be posted on the DOE NEPA website and on DOE’s Northern Pass EIS website.

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Q. What is a Record of Decision?

A. The Record of Decision (ROD) announces DOE’s decision to grant (either outright or with conditions) or deny the permit application and contains the reasons underlying DOE’s decision. The ROD will be issued no sooner than 30 days after publication by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the Notice of Availability of the final EIS in the Federal Register. The ROD will state DOE’s decision; identify the alternatives considered in reaching the decision, including the environmentally preferable alternative; identify any mitigation associated with the decision to reduce potential environmental impacts; and describe the factors that went into making the decision. Factors that DOE will consider in making its decision will include potential environmental impacts, DOE’s reliability findings, and any other factors that DOE may consider relevant to DOE’s decision whether to issue the permit. The ROD will be published in the Federal Register and posted on the DOE NEPA website and the Northern Pass EIS website.

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Q. What is the status of required endangered species and historic properties consultations?

A. The US Fish and Wildlife Service concurred on the DOE Biological Assessment on 10-19-2017 concluding formal consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act was concluded by execution of a Programmatic Agreement among DOE, the New Hampshire State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the Vermont SHPO, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and NPT in August 2017

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Q. What is the status of the final EIS?

A. EPA published a Notice of Availability of the final EIS on August 18, 2017. In the final EIS, DOE considered and responded to comments it received on the draft EIS (both written and oral comments). The Final EIS is available on DOE’s Northern Pass EIS website and the DOE NEPA website. Following a 30-day wait period, as required by NEPA implementing regulations, DOE may announce it decision to grant or deny a Presidential permit to NPT for the proposed Project.

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The Northern Pass Application Proceeding

Q. DOE regulations for Presidential permits require applications to contain "nformation regarding the environmental impacts . . . for each routing alternative." See 10 C.F.R. § 205.322(c). The regulations also require "a brief description of all practical alternatives to the proposed facility and a discussion of the general environmental impacts of each alternative." See 10 C.F.R. § 205.322(d). Does the Northern Pass application comply with DOE's regulations?

A. The Northern Pass application contains sufficient information submitted pursuant to 10 CFR 205.322(c) and (d) for DOE to determine whether an EIS is necessary. See 10 C.F.R. § 205.328(a). Specifically, the Northern Pass application provides information regarding environmental impacts and alternatives to the proposed facility. The information provided is sufficient to enable DOE to understand the applicant’s proposal and to commence an informed NEPA review. For more information, see Interpretive Guidance on the Requirements of 10 C.F.R. § 205.322 (June 2, 2011), available at http://www.oe.energy.gov/permits.htm; this document can also be viewed or downloaded from this website.

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Q. DOE regulations require Presidential permit applicants to submit certain technical information. See 10 C.F.R. § 205.322(b). When will Northern Pass submit these studies and will the public have an opportunity to review and comment on them?

A. Technical studies are often prepared by the relevant regional transmission operators or independent system operators in conjunction with the applicant. For more information, see Interpretive Guidance on the Requirements of 10 C.F.R. § 205.322 (June 2, 2011), available at http://www.oe.energy.gov/permits.htm; this document can also be viewed or downloaded from the Northern Pass EIS website. In the case of the Northern Pass project, ISO-New England is the regional transmission operator, and ISO-NE and Northern Pass have prepared interconnection facilities studies. As a general practice, ISO-NE does not make these studies available to the public, as they consist of critical electric infrastructure information. However, in the interest of transparency, DOE has made a redacted executive summary of the technical transmission studies available on DOE’s Northern Pass EIS website. The public comment period was open through August 7, 2017 (82 FR 31,315). DOE received no comments on the transmission studies during this 30-day public comment period.

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Q. When will DOE make a decision on Northern Pass' permit application?

A. DOE’s final determination on whether issuance of the permit would be consistent with the public interest – and therefore whether it will issue a Presidential permit – will be set forth in a Record of Decision. DOE will issue the Record of Decision no sooner than 30 days after publication by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the Notice of Availability of the final EIS in the Federal Register on August 18, 2017.

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Northern Pass EIS Website

Q. What is the confidentiality of Public Comments?

A. All comments received in the Northern Pass proceeding will be made publicly available, including on the project website. Any personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses, and email addresses, that may be included in a comment will automatically be made available to the public. Individual commenters may request that DOE withhold their personally identifiable information from public disclosure, and such requests will be honored to the extent allowable by law. If you wish for DOE to withhold your name and/or other personally identifiable information, please state this prominently at the beginning of your comment or check the appropriate box on the comment form. Additionally, DOE will accept comments submitted anonymously.

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Q. Why is the website different?

A. The website was modified in 2011 after review of the original site that was prepared under the previous NEPA contractor. During that review, it was determined that the user experience could be improved to help better communicate important project information, documents, maps and announcements. Further, the commenting processes were also changed on the new website to more efficiently store and organize comments. FAQs are periodically updated to reflect the current status of the process.

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Q. Where did my comments go that I made on the old system?

A. All of the comments received have been migrated to the new commenting system as part of the website update. Rather than being stored as PDF (portable document format) documents, all of the comments (including those received from letters, emails, etc.) were converted into text and added to the database that serves this website. These comments are part of the record for the NEPA process and will be considered during the review process.

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Additional Resources

40 Most Asked Questions about NEPA (100 kb PDF)