[Federal Register Volume 64, Number 29 (Friday, February 12, 1999)]
[Notices]
[Pages 7173-7175]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 99-3508]


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DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

[Docket No. PP-197]


Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and 
To Conduct Public Scoping Meetings and Notice of Floodplain and 
Wetlands Involvement; Public Service Company of New Mexico

AGENCY: Department of Energy (DOE).

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement 
and to conduct public scoping meetings.

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SUMMARY: Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) has applied to the 
Department of Energy (DOE) for a Presidential permit to construct two 
transmission lines originating at the switchyard of the Palo Verde 
Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS) near Phoenix, Arizona, and extending 
approximately 160 miles to the south along one of three alternative 
routes, where they would cross the United States (U.S.) border with 
Mexico in the vicinity of Nogales, Arizona. South of the border, the 
lines would extend approximately 60 miles into Mexico and terminate at 
an existing substation located in the City of Santa Ana, in the Mexican 
State of Sonora. The proposed transmission lines may be either 
alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). DOE has determined 
that the issuance of the Presidential permit would constitute a major 
Federal action that may have a significant impact upon the environment 
within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
(NEPA). For this reason, DOE intends to prepare an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) to address reasonably foreseeable impacts from the 
proposed action and reasonable alternatives.
    The purpose of this Notice of Intent is to inform the public about 
the proposed action, announce the plans for six public scoping meetings 
in the vicinity of the proposed transmission lines, invite public 
participation in the scoping process, and solicit public comments for 
consideration in establishing the scope and content of the EIS. Because 
the proposed project may involve an action in floodplains or wetlands, 
the EIS will include a floodplains and wetlands assessment and 
floodplains statement of findings in accordance with DOE regulations 
for compliance with floodplains and wetlands environmental review 
requirements (10 CFR Part 1022).

DATES: DOE invites interested agencies, organizations, and members of 
the public to submit comments or suggestions to assist in identifying 
significant environmental issues and in determining the appropriate 
scope of the EIS. The public scoping period starts with the publication 
of this Notice in the Federal Register and will continue until March 
15, 1999. Written and oral comments will be given equal weight, and DOE 
will consider all comments received or postmarked by March 15, 1999, in 
defining the scope of this EIS. Comments received or postmarked after 
that date will be considered to the extent practicable.
    Dates for the public scoping meetings are:

1. March 8, 1999, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Nogales, Arizona
2. March 8, 1999, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Tucson, Arizona
3. March 9, 1999, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., Sells, Arizona
4. March 9, 1999, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., Ajo, Arizona
5. March 10, 1999, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Gila Bend, Arizona
6. March 10, 1999, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., Casa Grande, Arizona

    DOE will publish additional notices of the dates, times, and 
locations of the scoping meetings in local newspapers in advance of the 
scheduled meetings. Any necessary changes will be announced in the 
local media.
    Requests to speak at a public scoping meeting(s) should be received 
by Mrs. Ellen Russell at the address indicated below on or before March 
3, 1999. Requests to speak may also be made at the time of registration 
for the scoping meeting(s). However, persons who submitted advance 
requests to speak will be given priority if time should be limited 
during the meeting.

ADDRESSES: Written comments or suggestions on the scope of the EIS and 
requests to speak at the scoping meeting(s) should be addressed to: 
Mrs. Ellen Russell, Office of Fossil Energy (FE-27), U.S. Department of 
Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20585-0350; phone 
202-586-9624, facsimile: 202-287-5736, or electronic mail at 
Ellen.R[email protected].
    The locations of the scoping meetings are:
    1. Americana Motor Hotel, 639 North Grand Avenue, Nogales, Arizona.
    2. Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 E. Speedway Boulevard, 
Tucson, Arizona.
    3. Council Chambers, Tohono O'odham Nation, Sells, Arizona.
    4. Ajo Community Center in the E. S. Bud Walker Park, 290 5th 
Street, Ajo, Arizona.
    5. Gila Bend Unified School District #24, Logan Auditorium, 308 N. 
Martin, Gila Bend, Arizona.
    6. Francisco Grande Resort, 26000 Gila Bend Highway, Casa Grande, 
Arizona.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For information on the proposed 
project or to receive a copy of the Draft EIS when it is issued, 
contact Mrs. Russell at the address listed in the ADDRESSES section of 
this notice.
    For general information on the DOE NEPA review process, contact: 
Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Assistance (EH-
42), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., 
Washington, DC 20585-0119; Phone: 202-586-4600 or leave a message at 
800-472-2756; Facsimile: 202-586-7031.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background and Need for Agency Action

    Executive Order 10485, as amended by Executive Order 12038, 
requires that a Presidential permit be issued by DOE before electric 
transmission facilities may be constructed, connected, operated, or 
maintained at the U.S. international border. The Executive Order 
provides that a Presidential permit may be issued after a finding that 
the proposed project is consistent with the public interest. In 
determining

[[Page 7174]]

consistency with the public interest, DOE considers the impacts of the 
project on the reliability of the U.S. electric power system and on the 
environment. The regulations implementing the Executive Order have been 
codified at 10 CFR Secs. 205.320-205.329. Issuance of the permit 
indicates that there is no Federal objection to the project, but does 
not mandate that the project be completed.
    On December 28, 1998, PNM, a regulated public utility, filed an 
application for a Presidential permit with the Office of Fossil Energy 
of DOE. PNM proposes to construct two transmission lines on a single 
right-of-way extending approximately 160 miles from the switchyard 
adjacent to the PVNGS, located approximately 30 miles west of Phoenix, 
Arizona, to the U.S.-Mexico border in the vicinity of Nogales, Arizona. 
South of the border, PNM would extend the lines approximately 60 miles 
to the Santa Ana Substation, located in the City of Santa Ana, Sonora, 
Mexico, and owned by the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), the 
national electric utility of Mexico.
    In its application, PNM states that it is considering designing the 
transmission lines for either AC or DC operation. PNM also states in 
its application that it may use a phased approach for construction; 
i.e., one line might be installed initially and the second line added 
some time in the future.
    If the AC option is chosen, a back-to-back AC/DC/AC converter 
station would be constructed within the U.S. in the vicinity of the 
U.S.-Mexico border. The AC transmission line(s) would be operated at 
345 kV between the PVNGS and the back-to-back converter station and at 
230 kV between the converter station and CFE's Santa Ana Substation. 
Each line would have an electrical transfer capability of approximately 
400 megawatts (MW). If a phased approach is used, the two lines would 
be constructed on two separate sets of support structures, but on the 
same right-of-way. If both AC lines are constructed at the same time, 
both electrical circuits would be installed on a single set of support 
structures.
    If the DC option is selected, an AC/DC converter station would be 
installed at each end of the proposed line(s); i.e., within or near the 
PVNGS in the U.S., and at the Santa Ana Substation in Mexico. If PNM 
elects to use a phased approach, the DC line would initially be 
operated as a mono-pole DC line (one conductor) and have a nominal 
operating voltage of 400 kV, with an electrical transfer 
capability of between 400 MW and 500 MW. With the addition of the 
second line (second conductor), the resulting interconnection would be 
upgraded to bi-pole 400 kV operation, with a transfer 
capability of between 800 MW and 1000 MW.
    PNM has identified three alternative corridors for construction of 
the cross-border transmission lines. Each of the three proposed 
alternative corridors begins at the PVNGS switchyard and is 
approximately two miles wide. However, when constructed, the 
transmission lines are expected to use a right-of-way of no more than 
150 to 200 feet in width. The first alternative corridor extends south 
from the PVNGS switchyard approximately 130 miles within the U.S. to 
the U.S.-Mexico border, crossing the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range 
and the western boundary of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The second 
alternative corridor proceeds slightly east and south from the PVNGS 
switchyard and extends approximately 160 miles within the U.S., 
crossing the middle to eastern area of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The 
third alternative corridor extends southeasterly from the PVNGS 
switchyard to an area south of Tucson, Arizona, where it turns south to 
Nogales, Arizona. This corridor is approximately 250 miles long within 
the U.S. Each of the three proposed alternative corridors would cross 
approximately 25 linear miles of 100-year floodplains.
    Project activities would include clearing rights-of-way and access 
roads, digging tower footings, setting transmission towers, hanging 
transmission wires, and modifying existing substation(s).
    The PNM application, including associated maps and drawings, can be 
downloaded in its entirety from the Fossil Energy web site 
(www.fe.doe.gov; choose regulatory programs, then electricity 
regulations, then pending proceedings). PNM states that there are no 
firm contracts in place for the sale of power to Mexico using the 
proposed transmission lines. Prior to commencing electricity exports to 
Mexico using the proposed lines, PNM, or any other electricity 
exporter, must obtain an electricity export authorization from DOE 
pursuant to section 202(e) of the Federal Power Act.

Identification of Environmental Issues

    A purpose of this notice is to solicit comments and suggestions for 
consideration in the preparation of the EIS. As background for public 
comment, this notice contains a list of potential environmental issues 
that DOE has tentatively identified for analysis. This list is not 
intended to be all-inclusive or to imply any predetermination of 
impacts. Following is a preliminary list of issues that may be analyzed 
in the EIS:
    (1) Socioeconomic impacts of development of the land tracts and 
their subsequent uses;
    (2) Impacts to protected, threatened, endangered, or sensitive 
species of animals or plants, or their critical habitats;
    (3) Impacts to floodplains and wetlands;
    (4) Impacts to cultural or historic resources;
    (5) Impacts to human health and safety;
    (6) Impacts on air, soil, and water;
    (7) Visual impacts;
    (8) Disproportionately high and adverse impacts to minority and 
low-income populations; and
    (9) Environmental impacts within Mexico.
    The EIS will also consider alternatives to the proposed 
transmission lines, including, to the extent practicable:
    (1) No Action Alternative: The EIS will analyze the impacts 
associated with ``no action.'' Since the proposed action is the 
issuance of a Presidential permit for the construction of the proposed 
transmission lines, ``no action'' means that the permit would not be 
issued. However, not issuing the permit would not necessarily imply 
maintenance of the status quo. It is possible that the applicant and/or 
the Mexican government may take other actions if the proposed 
transmission lines are not built. The No Action Alternative will 
address the environmental impacts that are reasonably foreseeable to 
occur if the Presidential permit is not issued.
    (2) Construction of a powerplant in the U.S. closer to the U.S.-
Mexico border with a shorter transmission line extending to the border, 
an alternative concept for supplying electric power to the target 
region.

Scoping Process

    Interested parties are invited to participate in the scoping 
process both to refine the preliminary alternatives and environmental 
issues to be analyzed in depth, and to eliminate from detailed study 
those alternatives and environmental issues that are not significant or 
pertinent. The scoping process is intended to involve all interested 
agencies (Federal, state, county, and local), public interest groups, 
Native American Tribes, businesses, and members of the public. 
Potential Federal cooperating agencies include the U.S. Department of 
the

[[Page 7175]]

Interior (including the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian 
Affairs, and the Fish and Wildlife Service), the U.S. Air Force, the 
International Boundary and Water Commission, and the Tohono O'odham 
Nation.
    Public scoping meetings will be held at the locations, dates, and 
times indicated above under the DATES and ADDRESSES sections. These 
scoping meetings will be informal and conducted as discussions between 
attendees and DOE. The DOE presiding officer will establish only those 
procedures needed to ensure that everyone who wishes to speak has a 
chance to do so and that DOE understands all issues and comments. 
Speakers will be allocated approximately 10 minutes for their oral 
statements. Depending upon the number of persons wishing to speak, DOE 
may allow longer times for representatives of organizations. 
Consequently, persons wishing to speak on behalf of an organization 
should identify that organization in their request to speak. Persons 
who have not submitted a request to speak in advance may register to 
speak at the scoping meeting(s), but advance requests are encouraged. 
Should any speaker desire to provide for the record further information 
that cannot be presented within the designated time, such additional 
information may be submitted in writing by the date listed in the DATES 
section. Both oral and written comments will be considered and given 
equal weight by DOE. Meetings will begin at the times specified and 
will continue until all those present who wish to participate have had 
an opportunity to do so.

Draft EIS Schedule and Availability

    The Draft EIS is scheduled for completion by October 1999, at which 
time its availability will be announced in the Federal Register and 
public comments again will be solicited.
    Those individuals who do not wish to submit comments or suggestions 
at this time but who would like to receive a copy of the Draft EIS for 
review and comment when it is issued should notify Mrs. Russell at the 
address above.
    The Draft EIS will be made available for public inspection at 
several public libraries or reading rooms in Arizona. A notice of these 
locations will be provided in the Federal Register at a later date.

    Issued in Washington, DC, on February 9, 1999.
Peter N. Brush,
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Environment, Safety and Health.
[FR Doc. 99-3508 Filed 2-11-99; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6450-01-P