The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its Notice of Intent (NOI) on Friday, July 15, 2022, to prepare a programmatic environmental review to analyze the potential impacts of wind energy development activities in the New York Bight (NY Bight)—off New York and New Jersey. This is the first time that BOEM has conducted a regional analysis containing multiple rental areas for offshore renewable energy. According to BOEM Director Amanda Lefton, this new approach aims to “help ensure timely decisions that advance offshore wind development while protecting the ocean environment and marine life.”
NY Bight Offshore Wind Lease Sale
As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power capacity by 2030, BOEM held a competitive auction in February 2022 for six lease areas totaling nearly of 500,000 acres in the NY Bight. The leases grant the lessees the exclusive right to submit construction and operating plans (COPS) to BOEM for permission to develop offshore wind installations in their lease areas. The total value of the auction won by six companies reached $4.37 billion, exceeding the value of any U.S. offshore energy lease sale, including oil and gas lease sales, in the history of the United States. United States.
BOEM Launches Environmental Review of NY Bight Wind Concession Areas
The NOI has officially initiated the “scoping” process for the development of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) covering the NY Bight Offshore Wind Lease Area. The PEIS is intended to analyze the potential impacts of wind energy development activities in the NY Bight area and the measures that can be taken to avoid, minimize, mitigate and monitor potential impacts (AMMM measures). BOEM released its NOI following a series of meetings with tenants, interested federal agencies, tribal governments and potential state partners to provide input on its NY Bight programmatic approach. BOEM met separately with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to discuss how this programmatic analysis can streamline approvals and consultations at the project level.
Purpose and Need for the Regional Environmental Review
The purpose of the ISSP, according to BOEM’s NOI, is “to identify, analyze and adopt, where appropriate, the problems, the degree of potential impacts and the AMMM measures”. The NOI states that the ISSP “is necessary to assist BOEM in making timely decisions on submitted COPs for the NY Bight.” Timely COP decisions reinforce US policy to make the energy resources of the outer continental shelf available for rapid and orderly development. Permit efficiency will be key to meeting the administration’s 30 GW target.
In order to increase the efficiency of the licensing process, the NOI states that the BOEM intends to achieve the following objectives in the ISSP:
- Analysis of the impacts of a representative project in the NY Bight.
- Analysis of programmatic AMMM measures for the NY Bight.
- Targeted regional cumulative analysis.
- Identification of minor or negligible impacts so that site-specific reviews in the NY Bight can focus on moderate or major impacts.
- Prioritization of environmental analyzes specific to the project.
According to the NOI, the PEIS should provide a framework for project-specific National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyzes to determine whether the project will have impacts greater than, equal to, or less than those analyzed in the PEIS. taking into account the level of action analyzed and the peculiarities of the site. In addition, project-specific NEPA documents will be able to focus on moderate to major impacts, without having to review resources whose impacts, according to the ISSP, are likely to be negligible to minor, unless the unique circumstances of a particular project decide otherwise.
Proposed action and preliminary analysis of alternatives
The NOI makes it clear that the NY Bight PEIS will not result in the approval of offshore wind development activities. Instead, the proposed action aims to do the following:
- Identify programmatic AMMM measures that BOEM may require as conditions of approval of COPs in the NY Bight, unless COP-specific NEPA analysis shows that implementation of these measures is not warranted or effective.
- Identify AMMM measures that should (or should not) be considered in a COP-specific NEPA analysis.
- Require BOEM to use a tiered review process that builds on the analyzes of the ISSP for the individual COPs that are expected to be filed for the six leases issued in the NY Bight.
As described in the NOI, BOEM intends to base its analysis on a “business scenario” representative of projects for the NY Bight, including associated export cables, and to consider the potential impacts of this development on the environment. The NOI stresses the importance of tenant engagement in the development of this representative project, as BOEM seeks to fit this representative project “within the range of design parameters informed by the tenants” to avoid engaging in an analysis speculation of potential impacts. The PEIS project will include a no-action alternative that assumes no development occurs in the NY Bight as well as an alternative that analyzes the impacts of not adopting programmatic AMMM measures for a representative project in the NY Bight.
BOEM invites comments from interested stakeholders by August 15, 2022
The NOI has launched a 30-day public comment period to identify issues and potential alternatives to consider within the “scope” of the NY Bight PEIS. As part of this process, BOEM will hold virtual scoping meetings on July 28, August 2 and August 4. During the meetings, the public will be able to participate in a question-and-answer session with BOEM and provide oral feedback on the scope of the ISSP. In addition, federal agencies, tribal, state, and local governments, and the public are invited to provide written comments on potential AMMM measures, activities in or near the NY Bight, and potential design envelopes and activities planned in each rental area. Comments must be received no later than Monday, August 15.
According to the NOI, BOEM hopes to release a draft PEIS for review in September 2023 and will seek additional public comment at that time. BOEM is also targeting June 2024 for the publication of the final ISSP, with a decision record published at least 30 days after the final ISSP is made available.
The PEIS is a major effort to streamline decision-making that comes as permitting timelines for offshore wind projects already under BOEM review have slipped. Although the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Ocean Wind 1 was released a week ahead of schedule, the Empire Wind Energy project, which is also proposed in the NY Bight, has already moved its DEIS release date. from August 2022 to November 2022. Other projects on the Atlantic coast are also reporting delays.
The NOI contains no details of the proposed action, leaving commentators to speculate on the content of the proposed AMMM measures. The NOI also does not describe the expected impacts; it simply lists the resource categories to scan. It ends with a detailed request for identification of potential alternatives, information and analysis relevant to the proposed action. Despite changes to scope requirements in the 2020 Environmental Quality Council (EQC) NEPA regulations, which emphasize coordination and early information gathering, the NOI does not provide much guidance. indication of the coordination that has occurred in its description of the proposed action, anticipated effects, or agency cooperation on the ISSP. This leaves stakeholders dependent on the formal scoping process to help them provide details on what to expect in the draft ISSP.
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