[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 135 (Thursday, July 14, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 41510-41513]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-17638]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-ES-2010-N283; 20124-1112-0000-F2]


Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation 
Plan for Commercial Wind Energy Developments Within Nine States

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; announcement of public scoping meetings; 
request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, as lead agency advise the 
public that we intend to prepare an environmental impact statement 
(EIS) on a proposed application, including a Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP), for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended. The potential ITP would include federally 
listed and candidate species within portions of nine states (North 
Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, 
Oklahoma, and Texas).
    The activities covered by a potential ITP would include regional-
level construction, operation, and maintenance associated with multiple 
commercial wind energy facilities. The planning partners are currently 
considering, for inclusion in the HCP, certain species listed as 
federally threatened or endangered, or having the potential to become 
listed during the

[[Page 41511]]

life of the HCP, and having some likelihood of being taken by the 
applicant's activities within the proposed permit area. The intended 
effect of this notice is to gather information from the public to 
develop and analyze the effects of the potential issuance of an ITP 
that would facilitate wind energy development within the planning area, 
while minimizing incidental take and mitigating the effects of any 
incidental take to the maximum extent practicable.
    We provide this notice to (1) Describe the proposed action; (2) 
advise other Federal and state agencies, potentially affected tribal 
interests, and the public of our intent to prepare an EIS; (3) announce 
the initiation of a 90-day public scoping period; and (4) obtain 
suggestions and information on the scope of issues and possible 
alternatives to be included in the EIS.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
on or before October 12, 2011. For approximate public meeting dates, 
see ``Public Meetings'' in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below.

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or request for information by any one of 
the following methods:
    U.S. Mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1306, 
Albuquerque, NM 87103-1306; Attention: Laila Lienesch;
    Facsimile: 505/248-6922 (Attention: Laila Lienesch);
    E-Mail: WindEnergyHCPComments@fws.gov; or
    Toll-Free Telephone Message Service: 800/815-8927.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laila Lienesch at 505/248-6494 or 
Laila_Lienesch@fws.gov, Amelia Orton-Palmer at 303/236-4211 or 
Amelia_Orton-Palmer@fws.gov, or Marty Tuegel at 505/248-6651 or 
Marty_Tuegel@fws.gov. Individuals who are hearing impaired or speech 
impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 800/877-8337 for TTY 
assistance.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Under the National Environmental Policy Act 
(42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.; NEPA) of 1969, as amended, we, the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service), as lead agency, advise the public that 
we intend to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on a 
proposed application, including a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), for 
an incidental take permit (ITP) under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), and seek public input 
prior to developing a draft EIS for the potential issuance of an ITP.

Public Meetings

    To facilitate information transfer, we will hold nine public 
meetings in the following cities between August 2011 and September 
2011:

Pueblo, Colorado--August 9, 2011.
Amarillo, Texas--August 10, 2011.
Clovis, New Mexico--August 11, 2011.
Pierre, South Dakota--August 23, 2011.
Bismarck, North Dakota--August 24, 2011.
Glendive, Montana--August 25, 2011.
Kearney, Nebraska--August 30, 2011.
Great Bend, Kansas--August 31, 2011.
Woodward, Oklahoma--September 1, 2011.
Austin, Texas--September 7, 2011.
Corpus Christi, Texas--September 8, 2011.

Specific times and locations of the public information meetings will be 
available on the Service's Web site--http://www.fws.gov/southwest/--and 
noticed in local newspapers at least 14 days prior to the meeting 
dates.

Reasonable Accommodations

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public meetings should contact the Service at the 
address above no later than 1 week before the public meeting. 
Information regarding this proposed action is available in alternative 
formats upon request.

Background

    Section 9 of the Act and its implementing regulations prohibit take 
of animal species listed as endangered or threatened. The definition of 
take under the Act includes the following activities: To harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect listed 
animal species, or attempt to engage in such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). 
Section 10 of the Act, 16 U.S.C. 1539, establishes a program whereby 
persons seeking to pursue activities that are otherwise legal, but 
could give rise to liability for unlawful take of federally protected 
species, may receive an ITP, which provides incidental take 
authorization to the ITP holder. To obtain an ITP, an applicant must 
submit an HCP containing measures that would minimize incidental take, 
including avoidance, and mitigate for the effects of any incidental 
take to the maximum extent practicable; and ensure that the taking is 
incidental to, and not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity (16 
U.S.C. 1539(a)(1)(B) and 1539(a)(2)(A)). If we determine that an 
applicant has satisfied all permitting criteria and other statutory 
requirements, we intend to issue the ITP. At this time, the entity or 
entities that would serve as the applicant(s) for and be potentially 
permitted under an ITP have not been selected. However, the ITP is 
being sought by the Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action Group (WEWAG), a 
group of wind energy industry companies formed in 2009. Member 
companies include Acciona North America; Allete; Alternity; BP 
Renewables; Clipper Wind Energy; CPV Renewable Energy Company, LLC; 
EnXco; Duke Wind Energy; Horizon Wind Energy; Iberdrola Renewables; 
Infinity; MAP Royalty; NextEra Energy Resources; Renewable Energy 
Systems Americas; Terra-Gen; Trade Wind Energy; Element Power; Own 
Energy; and Wind Capital Group. Additional companies may become 
involved as the planning process proceeds. Hereafter, the term 
``applicant'' is used to refer to the ultimate applicant(s) selected 
and the potential permittee(s). The proposed ITP would be granted for 
certain wind energy development, operation, and decommissioning or 
repowering-related activities undertaken within the permit area 
(described below).
    WEWAG has sought to work in partnership with the Service to promote 
species conservation, while complying with environmental stewardship 
goals and policy requirements that compel the development of clean and 
sustainable energy from wind resources. If successful, the HCP and 
subsequent ITP would allow take authorization for otherwise lawful 
activities, such as the development, construction, operation, and 
decommissioning or repowering, of commercial wind energy developments 
within the planning area. The HCP will contain a multifaceted approach, 
including but not limited to take avoidance, minimization of take 
(e.g., through proven and defined best management practices), and 
mitigation of the impacts of take through potential habitat 
preservation, restoration, and enhancement measures. The applicant must 
also ensure that adequate funding for implementation, including 
biological and compliance monitoring, is provided.
    WEWAG is currently considering, for inclusion in the HCP, certain 
species listed as federally threatened or endangered, or having the 
potential to become listed during the life of the HCP, and having some 
likelihood of being taken by the applicant's activities within the 
proposed permit area. Those species include the endangered whooping 
crane (Grus americana), the endangered interior least tern (Sterna 
antillarum athalassos), the endangered piping plover (Charadrius 
melodus),

[[Page 41512]]

and the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), a 
candidate species. The final list of covered species may include all 
these species, a subset of them, and/or additional species, based on 
the outcome of this planning process.
    The proposed planning area is a 200-mile-wide corridor determined 
by defining the center line of the whooping crane migration path 
corridor (100 miles on either side of the center line). This line is 
based on the database of confirmed whooping crane observations from the 
Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Program. This corridor extends from 
the Gulf Coast of Texas north to the Canadian border and encompasses 
such cities as Houston, TX; Oklahoma City, OK; Wichita, KS; Bismarck, 
ND; Grand Island, NE; and Aberdeen, SD. In addition, the planning area 
includes the majority of the historic range of the lesser prairie-
chicken, which extends the permit area beyond the 200-mile-wide 
whooping crane migration corridor to include parts of Kansas, Colorado, 
Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.

Environmental Impact Statement

    The Service will be the lead Federal agency in the preparation of 
the EIS to satisfy the requirements of NEPA. With this notice of intent 
(NOI), we ask other Federal, State, tribal, and local agencies with 
jurisdiction and/or special expertise with respect to environmental 
issues to formally cooperate with us in the preparation of the EIS. 
Agencies that would like to request cooperating agency status on the 
EIS should follow the instructions for filing comments provided under 
the ADDRESSES section above.
    The EIS will consider the proposed action (the issuance of a 
section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP, as supported by an HCP), no action (no HCP/no 
ITP), and a reasonable range of alternatives that accomplish the 
purpose and need of the proposal. A detailed description of the 
proposed action and alternatives will be included in the EIS. The 
alternatives to be considered for analysis in the EIS may include, but 
are not limited to, modified lists of covered species, differing land-
coverage areas, activities which may be covered, and a variety of 
permit structures under consideration for the conservation program, 
described below in the Public Comment section. The EIS will also 
identify potentially significant impacts on biological resources, land 
use, air quality, water quality, water resources, economics, and other 
environmental/historical resources that may occur from issuance of the 
ITP; indirect impacts as a result of implementing a proposed HCP, 
including any of the alternatives; and cumulative impacts. Various 
strategies for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the impacts of 
incidental take will also be considered.
    Environmental review of the EIS will be conducted in accordance 
with the requirements of NEPA, its implementing regulations (40 CFR 
1500-1508), other applicable regulations, and our procedures for 
compliance with those regulations. We furnish this notice in accordance 
with 40 CFR 1501.7 and 1508.22 to obtain suggestions and information 
from other agencies and the public on the scope of issues and 
alternatives they believe need to be addressed in the EIS. We invite 
comments from interested parties to ensure that the full range of 
issues related to the proposed permit application is identified.

Public Comments

    We are requesting information from other interested government 
agencies, Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, 
or other interested parties concerning the following areas of analysis: 
Vegetation, Wildlife and Aquatic Resources, Special Status Species, 
Surface Waters and Floodplains, Hydrology and Groundwater, Wetlands and 
Waters of the U.S., Archeology, Architectural History, Sites of 
Religious and Cultural Significance to Tribes, Noise and Vibration, 
Visual Resources and Aesthetics, Economics and Socioeconomics, 
Environmental Justice, Air Quality (including greenhouse gas emissions 
and climate change), Geology and Soil, Land Use, Transportation, 
Infrastructure and Utilities, Hazardous Materials and Solid Waste 
Management, and Human Health and Safety.
    In addition to the topics above, we are seeking comments on how a 
future ITP or ITPs may be structured. Currently there are four 
potential ITP structures being considered. The first involves a single 
habitat conservation plan that supports a single ITP held by a third 
party, referred to as a Programmatic HCP. This third-party ITP holder 
would enroll companies and their projects under the ITP. The third 
party would need to meet all general permit and ITP issuance criteria 
(50 CFR 13.21, 17.22(b), and 17.32(b)); and would be responsible for 
the administration of the HCP, including enrollment, compliance 
monitoring, biological monitoring, coordination of the mitigation, 
annual reporting, adaptive management, any ITP amendments, and annual 
coordination meetings. Under this ITP administrative structure the HCP 
and ITP would undergo NEPA and section 7 consultation once under the 
ESA prior to the ITP being issued. The ITP holder would administer the 
HCP without further Service involvement or reanalysis under NEPA or 
ESA.
    The second ITP structure, referred to as an Umbrella HCP, under 
consideration is a single habitat conservation plan that supports 
multiple ITP holders. A single HCP would be developed, and all NEPA and 
ESA compliance would be done on the HCP. Each company would apply for 
separate ITPs under the Umbrella HCP. At the time a company applied for 
an ITP, the Service would evaluate the NEPA and section 7 consultation 
under ESA to ensure that the impacts and effects of the company's 
projects are consistent with the HCP's NEPA and ESA compliance 
documents, and the general permit issuance criteria and ITPs (50 CFR 
13.21, 17.22(b), and 17.32(b)). The Service would also announce a 
Notice of Intent to issue the ITP in the Federal Register and take 
public comment on the application for 30-days (16 U.S.C. 1539(c)). 
Issuance of ITPs could take up to 90 days to process. Each company 
holding an ITP would be responsible for implementation of their 
minimization and mitigation measures, compliance monitoring and 
biological monitoring, annual reporting, adaptive management 
procedures, and participation in annual coordination meetings. The 
Service would be responsible for issuance of new ITPs, coordination of 
the mitigation, and conducting annual meetings with ITP holders. This 
ITP administrative structure would have continued Service involvement 
during the implementation of the HCP.
    The third ITP structure, referred to as the Primary Permit HCP, 
also involves a single HCP that supports an initial ITP held by a third 
party. Authorities in the initial ITP are then transferred to 
individual companies through the issuance of ITPs specific to their 
projects. A single HCP would be developed and all NEPA and ESA 
compliance would be completed on the HCP prior to issuance of the 
initial ITP. All compliance and issuance criteria would be reviewed 
prior to any transfer of authorities to an individual company. The 
Service would transfer the authorizations in the initial ITP, in whole 
or in part, based on a joint submission by the initial ITP holder and 
the proposed transferee, so long as the Service determines that the 
transferee is qualified to hold an ITP (50 CFR 13.21, 17.22(b), and 
17.32(b)) and provides adequate written assurance that it will provide 
sufficient funding and implement the relevant terms and

[[Page 41513]]

conditions of the ITP (50 CFR 13.25). The Service anticipates 
publishing a Notice of Intent to issue an ITP with transfer authorities 
in the Federal Register and take public comments on the application for 
30 days. Issuance of each ITP may take up to 90 days to process. The 
holder of the initial ITP would be responsible for the coordination of 
all activities among the transferees. Each company holding an ITP would 
be responsible for implementation of their minimization and mitigation 
measures, compliance monitoring and biological monitoring, annual 
reporting, adaptive management procedures, participation in annual 
meetings, and coordination with the initial ITP holder. The Service 
would be responsible in processing the transfers and reviewing annual 
reports. This ITP administrative structure would have some continued 
Service involvement during the implementation of the HCP, but it would 
be less than under the Umbrella HCP and more than under the 
Programmatic HCP.
    The fourth ITP structure, referred to as the Co-Permitted HCP, also 
involves a single HCP that supports an ITP, but all parties are named 
as co-permittees on the ITP. A single HCP would be developed and all 
NEPA and ESA compliance would be completed on the HCP prior to issuance 
of the initial ITP. Current members of WEWAG (or those who join prior 
to permit application) would be named as permittee in the incidental 
take permit application. Assuming the Service found that the HCP met 
the ESA's permit issuance criteria, the Service would issue a single or 
master incidental take permit naming each of the WEWAG members as a 
participating permittee (co-permittee). Similar to the programmatic 
approach, the incidental take permit would authorize each co-
permittee's projects located within the permit area. Prior to 
undertaking any new project, a co-permittee would submit to the Service 
a prescribed form indicating how its project complies with the 
incidental take permit and that any required mitigation has been paid 
to the appropriate entity. The Service would have the authority to 
review each project and would stay engaged during the implementation of 
the HCP. Each company named as a co-permittee would be responsible for 
implementation of their minimization and mitigation measures, 
compliance monitoring and biological monitoring, annual reporting, 
adaptive management procedures, and participation in annual 
coordination meetings. Additional NEPA and ESA section 7 would not be 
necessary, as each permittee would be fully authorized under the 
permit.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or 
opposition to, the action under consideration without providing 
supporting information, although noted, will not provide information 
useful in determining the issues and the impacts to the human 
environment in the draft EIS. The public will also have a chance to 
review and comment on the draft EIS when it is available (a notice of 
availability will be published in the Federal Register).
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
described above under the ADDRESSES section at the beginning of this 
notice. Written comments will also be accepted at the public meetings, 
although these public meetings are primarily intended to provide 
additional information and provide a chance for the public to ask 
specific questions concerning the proposed HCP and EIS.

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comment, you should be aware that the entire comment--including 
your personal identifying information--may be made publicly available 
at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your 
personal identifying information from public review, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Joy E. Nicholopoulos,
Acting Regional Director, Region 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico .
[FR Doc. 2011-17638 Filed 7-13-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P