Session A1.1

Pacific Ocean AquaFarms EIS: A Unique Application of NEPA

Cristi Reid

9:30 – 10:00 AM ET

About the Presentation

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is leading the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed commercial-scale finfish aquaculture facility (Pacific Ocean AquaFarms). The facility would be located in federal waters off the coast of southern California.

This project is unique in that NOAA is leading the development of a NEPA analysis, but has no decision-making responsibility. The proposed project requires Federal permits and authorizations including applicable permits under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbor Act. These permits and authorizations fall under the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), respectively. The EPA and USACE are participating as cooperating agencies for the purposes of the EIS. NOAA is leading a collaborative interagency effort to complete this environmental review and has implemented an interagency agreement to establish roles and responsibilities for the three agencies. The proposed project would consist of the construction, operation, and maintenance of an offshore marine finfish aquaculture facility composed of submersible net pens off the coast of Southern California. Initial production is projected to produce 2.2 million pounds (1,000 metric tons) annually growing up to 11 million pounds (5,000 metric tons) after environmental monitoring confirms that each successive scale of expansion has not resulted in any substantial environmental or space-use impacts. California yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) would be the initial farmed species. The project would utilize established and tested net pen and mooring technologies that are able to withstand the storm and rough sea conditions. In accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the implementing regulations published by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the EIS will evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposed project and issuance of the respective permits. The EIS will consider a no-action alternative, two site alternatives, and a half-scale alternative.

This talk will provide details about the proposed project, interagency agreement and workflow, and the EIS process to date.

About the Speaker

Cristi Reid
NMFS Headquarters NEPA Coordinator

Cristi Reid is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service. She has over seventeen years of experience applying NEPA to actions at NOAA. Cristi has special expertise in the application of NEPA to actions taken under several environmental mandates including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Cristi has a Master's degree in Marine. Estuarine, and Environmental Science from the University of Maryland. Cristi lives in Maryland with her two teenage children and enjoys walking and wine tasting.

Session A1.2

The Need for Federal Certification Program for NEPA Practitioners

Jack Allen, AEP

10:00 – 10:30 AM ET

About the Presentation

The purpose of this presentation is to put forward a premise that those that deliver NEPA processes [mostly associated with Environmental Impact Statements (EISs)] should be certified via a requirement at the federal level and specifically to be included in the CEQ rule changes to NEPA over the next two years. The NEPA rule changes in 2020 arguably "watered down" NEPA's environmental policy (i.e., removal of significance as NEPA-defined, allowance of Design-Build contractors and applicants to prepare EISs) at a time when such policy should be more robust than ever.

The certification program would come with a code of ethics highlighting objectivity, and detailed working knowledge of NEPA (and to some degree, related laws). While some states have certification programs (e.g., Texas, Ohio), certification as part of federal action would be more nationally consistent in NEPA delivery. A federally-mandated certification process would begin with an application and followed by a requirement to pass a test not unlike what is required for licensing P.E.s or certifying planners via AICP. In both instances, minimum requirements are established and testing is required. The same would be applied to an EIS practitioner. A put-forth reason for the implementation of EIS reviews requirements not proceeding efficiently (with regard to the duration of the reviews and length of documents prepared) is because individuals with inadequate or inconsistent NEPA knowledge and experience are leading the efforts to prepare EIS documents (there is a lot of variability regarding the abilities, skills, and knowledge of individuals who are contracted or tasked to develop NEPA documentation). As one example, some State DOTs require EISs when associated with complimentary schematic concept reports to be managed and signed by registered engineers. But if we think about how much time during a given period (say, an average month) said engineer delves in NEPA versus how much time a NEPA professional does, it is possible to conclude that perhaps, the registered engineer is not sufficiently trained or experienced in the practice of EIS review and decision-making to deliver the EIS process. But in some states, a registered engineer who deals daily with design, not an environmental policy, is overseeing the EIS process. If there were stringent requirements for the environmental lead of an EIS, then the people who do not necessarily do this work for a living would likely not seek out the certification; while those that are in the practice and are EIS developers would seek certification in order to oversee the EIS process.

This presentation puts forth a premise that certification of NEPA professionals through a program like ABCEP or a new program would contribute to predictable outcomes in process delivery relative to schedule, content, and quality, and in turn, advance the needed robustness in project decision making inherent in NEPA.

About the Speaker

Jack Allen AEP
SVP, National Environmental Planning Transportation Practice Leader

Jack Allen over 37 years, has successfully managed the timely preparation of over 30 EISs and EAs and completed countless CEs for major infrastructure projects throughout the western US. His experience on highly contentious, high-profile projects has exemplified a reputation for outside-the-box approaches requiring a high degree of diplomacy and attention to detail. He is recognized as an innovative senior program and project manager, NEPA practitioner, and analyst in interdisciplinary impact analysis, Section 4(f), and the social and natural sciences. As a NEPA practitioner and instructor, Mr. Allen's expertise is in NEPA process management including the purpose and need development, alternatives development, and screening processes, impact analysis management, and mitigation strategy.

Session A1.3

Use of Project Design Envelope (PDE) in NEPA Analysis

Kim Fizgibbons

10:30 – 11:00 AM ET

About the Presentation

Offshore Wind is nascent but rapidly evolving, industry in the U.S. President Biden has designated a goal of 30 Gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind under development by 2030. The lead federal agency for offshore wind is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). BOEM has a specific process to identify Wind Lease Areas, and ultimately offer lease sales to offshore wind developers through an auction process. The lease / offshore wind developer develops a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) and submits to BOEM for approval. Review and potential approval of the COP trigger National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance for offshore wind projects. BOEM utilizes an innovative approach to their NEPA analysis.

In order to maintain flexibility with the rapidly evolving offshore wind technology, the Project Design Envelope (PDE) approach is implemented in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by evaluation of the 'maximum design scenario' for each design parameter for each resource topic. Under the PDE approach, the impacts evaluated for each resource topic would be the maximum, and design changes would result in fewer impacts than evaluated. The intent is to streamline the need for redoing the impacts assessment as the offshore wind technology evolves concurrently with the NEPA analysis. In this presentation, the PDE approach will be explained and examples of the maximum design scenario for each resource topic will be provided. To date (November 2021) only two Final EISs have been published for offshore wind projects (Vineyard Wind 1 FEIS and South Fork FEIS), so this approach is not only innovative by NEPA standards, it is new in implementation as well. Considering the vast majority of ‘extra time’ on EISs is spent redoing analyses as design details evolve, this approach offers a genuinely useful way to streamline the NEPA process.

About the Speaker(s)

Kim Fitzgibbons
Principal Consultant
Kleinschmidt Associates

Kim Fitzgibbons is a Principal Consultant for Regulatory/NEPA & Permitting at Kleinschmidt Associates. She has specialized in environmental permitting and NEPA compliance for 25+ years. Her market focus is renewable energy, particularly offshore wind. Her academic background in Marine Science and technical background in NEPA and permitting merge well for helping clients navigate the regulatory processes for new offshore wind projects. Kim also instructs NEPA training classes which are customized upon client request.

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