Saturday, October 14, 2017

CLF's Objection to WMNF's Draft ROD (Oct. 13, 2017)

Conservation Law Foundation's Objection to WMNF's "Draft Record of Decision" on Northern Pass

Synopsis with Excerpts

Contact for a copy of the full 35-page text with documentation and references.

(For SPNHF's objection, click here.)

(For AMC's objection, click here.)

October 13, 2017 
By Electronic Delivery ( & Overnight Delivery (FedEx) 

Mary Beth Borst, Reviewing Officer 
USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region 
626 East Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 700 
Milwaukee, WI 53202 

Re: Objection to U.S. Forest Service Draft Record of Decision, Northern Pass Transmission Line Project (White Mountain National Forest, Grafton County, New Hampshire) 

Dear Ms. Borst: 

Conservation Law Foundation (“CLF”) hereby objects to the Draft Record of Decision published on September 1, 2017 by the U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Division, White Mountain National Forest (Grafton County, New Hampshire) authorizing use and occupancy of National Forest System lands by Northerrn Pass Transmission, LLC for the construction, operation and maintenance of its proposed electric power transmission line crossing portions of the White Mountain National Forest. . . .

CLF objects to the Draft Record of Decision on the ground that it is premised on a grossly deficient NEPA analysis and, further, that it is contrary to the public interest. With the exception of one issue that has arisen as a result of concerns expressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by letter dated September 26, 2017, the bases for CLF’s objection have been raised by CLF in specific written comments submitted during the NEPA process and are set forth below.

I. The FEIS Fails to Establish that the Project is Needed in the Context of Other Regional Developments and Current Grid Management Capabilities

The Draft Record of Decision discusses the purported “Project Objectives” of the the Northern Pass transmission line as addressing electricity diversity, low carbon electricity supply, and non-intermittent power supply. Draft Record of Decision at 3-5. It then proceeds – in explicit reliance on the FEIS, to review the merits of the project on the basis of those objectives. Importantly, however, the FEIS (and by extension the Draft Record of Decision ) does not establish that there is a specific need for or benefit to the Project, in the context of other regional developments and capabilities. 

 The FEIS and Draft ROD have failed to analyze the need for Northern Pass in the context of other major transmission and generation development underway and proposed throughout the region. There is a range of solutions available to meet each of the three project objectives enumerated in the FEIS and Draft ROD, individually or in combination. The 35 proposals submitted in response to the Massachusetts Request for Proposals (“RFP”), some of which contain multiple bids or project alternatives, underscore this fact. 

 Among the RFP bids, “like-competitors” to Northern Pass may include: 

1. Granite State Power Link (Grid America/National Grid): 1200-MW line from Quebec to VT & NH + 500-804 MW wind + uncontracted capacity for hydro/other. 
2. New England Clean Power Link (HQ & TDI): 1000-MW line from Quebec to VT + 1000 MW hydro/wind.  
3. Atlantic Link (Emera): 1000-MW subsea transmission line from New Brunswick to MA + wind/hydro. 
4. Maine Clean Power Connection (CMP-Avangrid): 345 kV line through ME + multiple renewable energy proposals + energy storage. 
5. New England Clean Energy Connect (CMP-Avangrid): 1200-MW line from Quebec to ME + wind/hydro.  

The projects identified above could serve the objectives of enhancing access to diverse, low-carbon, and non-intermittent energy supplies, and like Northern Pass are designed to provide a substantial amount of total energy to the New England region.4 Although the FEIS references some of these projects, such as Granite State Power Link and New England Clean Power Link, the FEIS and Draft ROD fail to adequately address them due to the FEIS’s unlawfully narrow purpose and need statement (discussed infra at Part II). 

 At the same time, it is important to note that there is no particular magic to the size of the Northern Pass project or like-sized competitors. For example, there is not necessarily an intrinsic benefit to Massachusetts accepting one large bid as opposed to two or three (or more) smaller proposals. Indeed, there may be some benefit in accepting a combination of bids, whether that benefit be hedging against failure to build, minimizing overall environmental impact, additional resource and geographic diversity, or reducing the need for the most lengthy transmission lines. DOE fails to address these issues. 

 The FEIS also fails to meaningfully address the extent to which rooftop solar, energy storage and demand-side resources, in combination with energy efficiency, could defer, reduce, or eliminate the need that the FEIS and the Forest Service identify for Northern Pass. As discussed in more detail later in these comments, these resources are increasingly prominent in New England and have played an important role in constraining demand, cost, and the need for new large-scale generation resources. Although the FEIS attaches a technical report that indicates increased regional reliance on these resources,5 it does not adequately address these resources in drawing conclusions on the preferred alternative. The FEIS declines to address them in detail. . . .

 There are no other grounds to assume that Northern Pass is needed to maintain reliability. When new transmission is needed to support the reliability of the electric grid in New England, the cost of that transmission is shared among all users and such projects are considered reliability transmission upgrades (RTUs).7 Northern Pass is not a reliability transmission upgrade, and as acknowledged in the FEIS, it has never been advanced as a reliability transmission upgrade. It is not needed to support the stability of the electricity grid and it is not a project for which all utilities in the region will pay based on their share of demand on the grid. Even while acknowledging that the Project is elective rather than reliability-based, the FEIS erroneously seeks to characterize Northern Pass as needed to ensure reliability in the region.

II. The Purpose and Need Statement is Unlawfully Narrow, Establishing a Self- Fulfilling Prophecy in Favor of the Project and Unlawfully Constraining the Alternatives Analysis 

. . . .

For these reasons, and for the reasons set forth in CLF’s prior comments, the FEIS is based on an unlawfully constrained purpose and need statement, rendering unlawful any Forest Service Record of Decision premised upon the FEIS. Separate and apart from its reliance on the FEIS, the unlawfully narrow purpose and need statement adopted by the Forest Service in its Draft Record of Decision further renders unlawful any final decision granting a special use permit.

III. The EIS Alternatives Analysis is Flawed as a Matter of Law 

A. The FEIS’s Alternatives Analysis is Fatally Flawed because it is Premised on an Unlawfully Narrow Purpose and Need Statement. 

B. The FEIS’s Alternatives Analysis is Deficient Because It Excludes From Detailed Analysis a Number of Reasonable Alternatives 

 (1) The FEIS is Deficient for its Failure to Include Power Generation Alternatives among the Reasonable Range of Alternatives For Detailed Analysis 

(2) The FEIS is Deficient for its Failure to Include Other Transmission Projects among the Reasonable Range of Alternatives for Detailed Analysis

(3) The FEIS is Deficient for its Failure to Consider Demand-Side Management, Including Energy Efficiency, among the Reasonable Range of Alternatives for Detailed Analysis 

(4) The FEIS is Deficient for its Failure to Include a Detailed Analysis of Underground Transmission Cable in Railroad Rights-of-Way

The FEIS specifically eliminates from its reasonable range of alternatives the burial of transmission cable in railroad rights of way. FEIS at 2-51 to 2-52. While the FEIS includes brief additional discussion of how DOE arrived at its determination to exclude the use of railroad rights of way from detailed analysis, it does nothing to cure the deficiencies identified by CLF in its comments on the DEIS/SDEIS. Specifically, the FEIS explains that DOE considered “the entire range of active, inactive and abandoned railroad ROWs” and then, “[b]ased on all these permutations,” assembled a combination of rights of way to form the single route that was considered and rejected. FEIS at 2-51. Rather than identifying a single route and then eliminating that route from consideration as a result of space constraints, the FEIS could have and should have assessed other potential right-of-way combinations / routes to determine their feasibility, including but not limited to combinations incorporating railroad right-of-way in Vermont. Its failure to do so render the FEIS and the Forest Service’s reliance thereon deficient as a matter of law. CLF hereby reiterates and incorporates by reference its prior comments related to DOE’s improper assessment of railroad rights of way. See CLF’s Comments on DEIS/SDEIS at 20-22.

(5) The FEIS is Deficient for its Failure to Include a Detailed Analysis of Alternative Border Crossings

C. The FEIS is Deficient for its Failure to Adequately Assess Certain Alternatives Selected for Detailed Analysis

(1) The FEIS Is Deficient Because It Fails to Include Meaningful Analysis of the No-Action Alternative

(2) The Analysis of Underground Cable Alternatives in Highway Corridors is Deficient 

CLF appreciates DOE’s and the Forest Service’s consideration of I-93 for purposes of burying HVDC cable and its determination that, as considered within certain enumerated alternatives, I-93 presents a viable option. With specific regard to I-93, however, CLF reiterates its position that the EIS should have analyzed an alternative that relies on burial in the I-93 corridor north of Franconia notch, into Vermont, with continued burial in the I-91 transportation.

It also should have considered use of I-91 in Vermont in combination with the use of I-89 and/or railroad rights of way, such as those that would allow access from the west and northwest. Highway corridors provide an opportunity to avoid the use of overhead transmission lines and their long-term impacts and potentially at lower cost than other routes not located on transportation corridors. The FEIS, and decision-makers relying on it, have not adequately assessed the important opportunity highway corridors could serve.  

D. The Alternatives Analysis Fails to Support a Decision that Complies with the Clean Water Act’s “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative” Requirement

IV. The FEIS is Deficient as a Matter of Law because its Impact Analysis Entirely Fails to Address Certain Impacts and Inadequately Addresses Others 

A. The FEIS is Deficient Because it Fails to Assess the Impacts of Generation and Transmission in Canada 

B. The FEIS is Deficient for Its Failure to Assess Environmental Justice Issues Pertaining to Indigenous Populations 

As referenced above, on August 30, 2017 the Conseil des Innus de Pessamit submitted comments to DOE describing numerous long-standing and continuing adverse impacts on the Pessamit Innu First Nation caused by the development and operation of Hydro Quebec’s hydroelectric infrastructure, and raising concerns about further impacts associated with the continued development of such infrastructure. The FEIS fails to assess the reasonably foreseeable impacts on the Pessamit Innu First Nation, including but not limited to environmental justice issues.44 The FEIS presumably omitted this environmental justice assessment on grounds that the Pessamit Innu First Nation is located in Canada. For the reasons discussed in Part IV.A., however, the extraterritorial location of the Pessamit Innu First Nation does not excuse DOE from analyzing and discussing the impacts on this community. The failure to assess environmental justice issues related to the Pessamit Innu First Nation renders the FEIS – and any decision that relies on it – deficient as a matter of law.

C. The FEIS is Deficient Because it Fails to Consider Negative Impacts on the Development of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in New England 

D. The FEIS is Deficient because it Fails to Accurately Assess Either the Value of New Hampshire’s Viewsheds or the Impacts of the Project on those Viewsheds 

Consistent with the DEIS, the FEIS accurately concludes that New Hampshire’s North Country has a high intrinsic visual quality. FEIS at 3-67. The FEIS also concludes that the area is characterized by “a very low level of development” and a low population density. Id. Consistent with this low population density and low level of human development, the FEIS enumerates a large number of parks available for public use in the areas of scenic concern in the North Country: White Mountain National Forest, Weeks and Dixville Notch State Parks, Coleman, Cape Horn, Percy and Nash Stream State Forests, Connecticut River National Byway, Moose Path Trail, Presidential Range Tour, White Mountain Trail Northern Loop, Pontook Reservoir, Lancaster Town Forest, and Kauffman Forest. Id. 45 However, the technical report to the FEIS erroneously relies on population data as the basis for conclusions as to the overall visual impact of the proposed project, including its impacts on the North Country. Section of the Visual Impact Assessment explains that, in the absence of available data on the usage of the scenic or recreational resources in New Hampshire, DOE’s consultant, T.J. Boyle Associates, assessed viewer exposure based on population numbers, stating: Data regarding potential viewers are generally not available for scenic or recreation resources in New Hampshire, therefore scenic concern cannot be weighted by the number of recreation viewers . . . potential visual exposure is approximated as a function of population density based on 2010 U.S. Census block-level data. Visual Impact Assessment at 48. Applying this approach to the North Country, the Visual Impact Assessment falsely concludes that viewer impacts will be low because there are few residents (at 93): Just over half of the Northern Section has no residents and another 40 percent has very low population density. In most of the area, it is unlikely there will be many viewers affected by a visual change. 

 As CLF indicated in its comments on the DEIS/SDEIS (pages 31-32), assessing viewer exposure based on U.S. Census data is an arbitrary and unsupportable approach due to the fact that scenic recreational areas are by definition areas that do not entail habitation. This approach leads to particularly dramatic errors when applied to less developed areas such as the North Country, which serves as a region-wide resource for outdoor activities and appreciation of the natural environment.46 The North Country’s intrinsic visual quality stems from the fact that it has a low population density and level of development, but a high number of parks and natural viewscapes accessible to the general, non-resident public. The FEIS nevertheless disregards visitor data altogether, relying solely upon resident population to draw conclusions as to viewer exposure. To ignore the fact that New Hampshire sees upward of 34 million travelers and tourists annually – more than twenty five times the state’s population – is illogical and arbitrary.47 

DOE’s explanation that the value of scenic sensitivity used is the “greater of scenic concern or viewer exposure, not the average,” and that “low viewer exposure in the Northern Section and the WMNF, for example, does not lower the scenic sensitivity of these areas” is inadequate.48 Using this methodology does ensure that undervaluing viewer exposure will not lower scenic sensitivity below the rankings for scenic concern. However, without conducting an appropriate analysis it is impossible to know whether accurate viewer exposure data might increase the study’s ratings for scenic sensitivity, a very real possibility given the number of visitors to the state each year. The use of U.S. Census information as a substitute for usage data inevitably leads to a substantial undervaluation of visual impacts, and the FEIS is therefore defective and must be corrected.

DOE’s viewshed impacts analysis remains infected with other unsupported conclusions. DOE’s explanation that “experiences, not places, are rated” in Table 9 of the Visual Impact Assessment (at 47-48) fails to address these deficiencies.49 Table 9 rates the importance of scenery to the experience of various activities known to take place in New Hampshire. The Visual Impact Assessment contains arbitrary and unsupported conclusions including: 

 that although campgrounds, picnic areas, and recreation resorts are often selected based on their scenic locations, they do not rate “very high” for importance of scenery; 

 that parks are not valued highly for their scenic value; 

 that areas used for activities such as skiing, swimming, boating, fishing, and golfing are not highly valued for their scenic quality because of the attention they require to an activity;  that the setting is “non-contributing” to the experience of rockhounding; and 

 that special events (presumably including weddings and other celebrations) are held indoors, and therefore the scenic quality of the environment is very low value to those activities. Among other things, it is widely known that celebrations such as weddings are often held outside,50 and the scenic environment can be a critical element of the experience. That the visual impacts analysis upon which DOE relies continues to fail to engage either common sense or objective data to draw conclusions as to the importance of visual quality is in clear error, rendering the FEIS and decisions that rely on the FEIS grossly deficient.

E. The Socioeconomic Technical Report Contains False and Unsupported Assumptions that Infect Core Conclusions of the FEIS

F. The FEIS Fails to Identify and Consider Impacts on Landscape-Level Historical and Cultural Resources 

G. The FEIS Fails to Comprehensively Assess Cumulative Impacts

V. The FEIS and the Forest Service’s Draft Record of Decision are Contrary to the Public Interest

VI. Conclusion CLF objects to the Forest Service’s Draft Record of Decision on the grounds that, as set forth above an in previously submitted written comments, it is premised on a legally deficient Environmental Impact Statement and, further, because the Draft Record of Decision is contrary to the public interest. CLF urges the Forest Service not to finalize its Draft Record of Decision unless and until all of the above legal deficiencies have been corrected, with the ability for further public comment, and to deny the requested special use permit as contrary to the public interest. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Tom Irwin 
Vice President & CLF New Hampshire Director 
Conservation Law Foundation 
27 North Main Street Concord, NH 03301 
(603) 573-9139 

Friday, October 13, 2017

SPNHF's Objection to WMNF's Draft ROD (Oct. 13, 2017)

SPNHF's Objection to WMNF's "Draft Record of Decision" on Northern Pass

(Read the Appalachian Mountain Club's objection here.)

(Read the Conservation Law Foundation's objection here.)

October 13, 2017

Sent by Email 10/13/17 to: objections‐eastern‐

Mary Beth Borst, Reviewing Officer 
USDA Forest Service
626 East Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 700
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Dear Ms. Borst:

This letter serves as a formal response to the Draft Record of Decision (ROD) issued August 31, 2017 by Thomas G. Wagner, then Supervisor of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), on the matter of issuing a Special Use Permit (SUP) for the Northern Pass Transmission project to use and occupy land owned by the Forest Service.

The Forest Society was founded in 1901, in part to assure that the large scale liquidation of New Hampshire forests in the White Mountains region never happened again. With the active engagement of the Forest Society, the Weeks Act was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1911, creating the authority for the US Forest Service to acquire private lands for the purpose of protecting the headwaters of major river systems east of the Mississippi River. Ever since the first parcel of land was acquired for the WMNF in 1918 in the town of Benton, New Hampshire, the Forest Society has been an active partner with the Forest Service as “the people’s forest” in the White Mountains matured. We greatly value this one hundred years of collaboration. We believe that the partnerships the WMNF has established with municipalities, land owners, the forest products industry, state government and other non‐ government organizations like ours have been critical to what today makes the WMNF a flagship in the national forest system.

The Forest Society is filing this objection as constructive criticism from a 100 year‐old partner. We have three major concerns, each detailed below, and each accompanied by a suggested remedy for curing the deficiency cited. The Forest Society concludes that the Draft ROD issued August 31 should be remanded to the WMNF Forest Supervisor for reconsideration.

1. Faulty and Incomplete Consideration of Available Alternatives

REASON FOR OBJECTION: The draft ROD fails to consider alternatives which could transmit electric power from Hydro‐Quebec to consumers in New England with little or no impact on the White Mountain National Forest. For this reason alone, the Regional Forester should return the draft ROD to the WMNF Supervisor for reconsideration.

As the draft ROD notes, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is one factor in the larger set of issues that inform a Record of Decision. The Supervisor has the capacity to look beyond the FEIS to fully inform his/her decision. Nothing in the National Environmental Policy Act limits the Forest Supervisor to the alternatives considered in the FEIS. The draft ROD cites market supply considerations in support of its claim that the project meets three primary needs for electricity in New England: diversity of supply, low‐carbon supply, and non‐ intermittent supply. Yet, the draft ROD avoids applying market considerations to its consideration of alternatives.

For example, one market alternative is the New England Clean Power Link (NECPL) project, which would bring the same volume of electricity from Quebec to the New England grid without crossing any land in New Hampshire. This project has all the needed federal and state permits to proceed to construction. It would completely avoid the White Mountain National Forest, and would also avoid all of the unreasonable adverse impacts that Northern Pass as proposed would have on New Hampshire.

Another market alternative is the Granite State Power Link project, which would bring 1200 megawatts of electricity to the New England grid using existing transmission line infrastructure in New Hampshire. It would not require a Forest Service SUP, and would avoid all of the unreasonable adverse impacts that Northern Pass as proposed would have on New Hampshire (including the WMNF).

These two projects are among the 46 proposals for a long term renewable electricity supply contract currently under consideration by the State of Massachusetts. Of these 46 proposals, at least six propose to use Hydro‐Quebec as a supplier, including the NECPL project. Of the 46, only Northern Pass requires a Special Use Permit from the WMNF. If the marketplace is actively considering market alternatives to Northern Pass, it would seem entirely rational for the WMNF Supervisor to consider them as well in rendering this decision.

An added concern regarding the incomplete consideration of alternatives is the failure of the FEIS itself to look at alternative crossings of the international boundary. For purposes of the Department of Energy’s review under NEPA, the DOE should have considered more than one border crossing to fulfill its NEPA obligation to look at practicable alternatives for the decision DOE is charged with making on the Presidential Permit. Had DOE considered other border crossings in its review, and not limited its consideration to the sole crossing the applicant requested (in Pittsburg, NH, at Hall’s Stream), it is very likely that corridor alternatives completely bypassing the White Mountain National Forest may have been more thoroughly considered in the NEPA review process. For example, a crossing in Derby, Vermont, using the Interstate 91 and Interstate 93 corridors would result in an alternative that would have significantly less impact on the WMNF than the alternative proposed by the draft ROD.

REMEDY: Return the draft ROD to the WMNF Supervisor for reconsideration of alternatives that would have no impact or substantially less impact to the White Mountain National Forest than the alternatives supported by the draft ROD. 2.

Faulty Assessment of Interstate 93 Corridor In Decision Rationale

Reason for Objection: The draft ROD’s rationale goes to some length to debunk the feasibility of using Interstate 93, particularly through Franconia Notch, while simultaneously acknowledging that burying the line in the Interstate 93 corridor would have significantly less impact on the WMNF than the specific alternatives the draft ROD recommends be the subject of a Forest Service SUP.

This analysis is faulty on several counts:

 The land in Franconia Notch is owned by the State of New Hampshire where the WMNF Forest Supervisor has no jurisdiction. If the State of New Hampshire believes that it is inappropriate to use the Franconia Notch Parkway for co‐locating a high voltage transmission line, then it should say so.

 The draft ROD states that “both the FHWA and NH DOT have expressed safety and traffic concerns with this [I‐93] potential route.” The draft ROD provides no evidence of such claims. If there are written communications to WMNF or DOE from FHWA and/or NH DOT making such claims they should be referenced. If there are no such communications this language should be deleted from the ROD.

 In June 2016 the Governor of New Hampshire signed into law House Bill 626 (copy attached). This law establishes energy transmission corridors in each of four highway rights of way owned in fee by the State of New Hampshire (Interstate 93, Interstate 95, Interstate 89 and Route 101 between Manchester and I‐95). In addition, this law instructs the NH DOT to update its Utility Accommodation Manual (note highlights) to streamline the process for making these facilities accessible to utility projects. The WMNF Supervisor goes to great lengths in the draft ROD to explain why alternatives “utilizing I‐93 are not consistent with my understanding of NH DOT policies.” But there is no mention of HB 626 or the re‐write of the Utility Accommodation Manual to accommodate the use of I‐93 for project like Northern Pass.

REMEDY: The final ROD should remove all references to the suitability of Interstate‐93 through Franconia Notch State Park as an inappropriate location for the Northern Pass project because 1) this is not the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service and 2) the State has adopted a new law that actually encourages I‐93 to be considered by energy developers as an appropriate corridor for the location of a project like Northern Pass. The Forest Supervisor is certainly entitled to opine that he would prefer to have a project like Northern Pass disrupt 10 miles of roads on Forest Service land (as is the case with his preferred alternatives) rather than have the project only disturb 1.7 miles of Forest Service land (as would be the case if NP were to be buried within I‐93 instead of Routes 18, 116 and 112). However, the draft ROD should limit its recommendations to land owned by the US Forest Service and leave siting recommendations on all other lands in the state to the NH Site Evaluation Committee.

3. Faulty Public Interest Determination

Reason for Objection: The draft ROD Public Interest Determination (Section suffers from three major errors.

 The statement that “there is not currently any broad energy transmission routing policy at the federal or state level that evaluates energy transmission on a broader geographic scale” is only half true. It is accurate that there is no federal policy. As cited above, the State of NH adopted such a policy in 2016 with enactment of HB 626.

 Conclusions that the power from Quebec is low‐carbon and low cost, and that it will diversify the electricity supply in New England, are not supported by presentation of facts that support such claims.

 The public interest determination totally ignores the strong public opposition that has bedeviled Northern Pass since it was first introduced to New Hampshire in October 2010. It is hard to imagine how any discussion of “public interest” and Northern Pass could exclude such broad and strong public sentiments. We agree with the WMNF Supervisor that a buried line through the White Mountain National Forest is preferable to an overhead line. We believe the Supervisor’s initial efforts to have the EIS review buried options are commendable. However, we believe the Supervisor failed to fully address the question as to whether this proposed use of WMNF land is in the public interest. The draft ROD Public Interest Determination concludes that the project “will benefit the public by providing low‐carbon, cost‐effective and diversified source of electricity for the people of New Hampshire and New England.”

 The claim that the project is “low carbon” may be accurate if the comparison is to coal or some other fossil fuel. However, carbon is not the only greenhouse gas, and there has never been a full greenhouse gas accounting for this project over its 40 year life cycle, listing all credit and all debits, and properly accounting for the time over which they accrue. The draft ROD should recognize this fact.  The claim that this project is “cost effective” is not borne out by the facts. If NECPL can build an extension cord from Quebec to New England for $1.2 billion, and NP can build an extension cord for $1.6 billion, and the price of the Quebec power is the same regardless of which line carries the electrons, how is NP “cost effective”? The draft ROD should explain what it means by “cost‐effective.” 
 Hydro power may diversify the portfolio of New England electricity generation, but price is what drives the wholesale power market in New England. If a particular source of electricity generation cannot compete on price, it does not succeed in the ISO‐NE managed wholesale market. By ignoring this essential element of how electricity is sold at the wholesale level in New England, the draft ROD concludes that the power from Quebec will actually be competitive without any consideration or analysis of how natural gas prices are currently driving the New England electricity markets.

 Northern Pass and the FEIS both argue that the carbon and cost benefits of Northern Pass as proposed are reasons for advancing the project. The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee has received considerable evidence calling these claims into question. Before issuing a final ROD the WMNF Supervisor should review the NH SEC record on these issues and use this review to reconsider claims made in the draft ROD.

Another shortcoming of the public interest determination in the draft ROD is the absence of any discussion about the public opposition to the project. It says nothing about how the people and communities most directly impacted by Northern Pass strongly oppose the project as proposed. It says nothing about the substantive concerns that led thousands of people to attend public scoping sessions and hearings on the EIS and to provide public comments.

It says nothing about the fact that 26 of the 31 affected communities overwhelmingly passed resolutions at town meetings opposing Northern Pass. Given the decades of emphasis that the WMNF has placed on building strong community and partner relationships, it is really quite astonishing that this 17 page draft ROD is totally silent on the public interest as the public sees it.

REMEDY: Remand the draft ROD to the WMNF Supervisor to reconsider the conclusion that low‐carbon, low‐cost and diversification of supply issues are thoroughly and properly assessed. In addition, the final ROD should include consideration of the strong public opposition to Northern Pass in the ROD’s Public Interest Determination.

We believe this draft ROD needs considerably more work before it is finalized. We strongly encourage the Regional Forester to remand the draft decision to the WMNF Supervisor for further consideration for the reasons cited above. The WMNF, the “land of many uses,” is a public asset. We should all think long and hard before we encourage these lands to be used to host and enable such an enterprise.


Jane A. Difley, 

cc: Clare R. Mendelsohn, Forest Supervisor, WMNF
Enclosure: New Hampshire House Bill 626, Introduced 2015, Enacted 2016

AMC's Objection to WMNF's Draft ROD (Oct. 13, 2017)

Appalachian Mountain Club's Objection to the WMNF's 
"Draft Record of Decision" on Northern Pass

(Read SPNHF's objection here.)

(Read CLF's objection here.)

Mary Beth Borst, Reviewing Officer
USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region
626 East Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 700
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 944-3963 (FAX)

October 13, 2017

RE: Objections of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the ‘Draft Record of Decision - Final Northern Pass Transmission Line Project Environmental Impact Statement, White Mountain National Forest, Grafton County, New Hampshire’

Dear Ms. Borst:

Thank you for this opportunity to provide our objections to the draft Record of Decision, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Northern Pass Transmission project in the White Mountain National Forest, NH. Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is the nation’s oldest conservation and recreation organization, with more than 100,000 members, supporters, and advocates. Our mission is to promote the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The AMC is an intervener in the above‐referenced docket, and its standing in this case was described in our motion to intervene of Dec. 15, 2010, and our April 4th, 2016 comments on the US Department of Energy Draft EIS and Supplement (DEIS), which included objections based on timely and specific written comments regarding the proposed project. AMC raises the following objections to the draft White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) EIS Record of Decision (draft ROD) without prejudice to any and all legal rights AMC may have, which are hereby expressly reserved.

On April 4th 2016 AMC provided extensive comments on the DEIS and Supplement, and we are disappointed to note that so little of what we suggested for improvement has been adopted in either the US DOE FEIS or the draft ROD. Given the detail we previously provided about our concerns, we will not repeat all of our argument here, but instead will highlight those areas where we believe the draft ROD remains sorely lacking despite our previous comments and recommendations, and based on new information arising after the designated comment opportunities.

Sections in the WMNF draft ROD relevant to AMC’s comments on the DEIS and FEIS

Section 1.3 Purpose and Need

The “Purpose and Need” defined by the DOE and adopted by Supervisor Wagner is unduly narrow, and precludes full consideration of the “public interest” which should be at the heart of the WMNF analysis. As AMC noted in its DEIS and FEIS comments: “The purpose of, and need for, the DOE’s action is to determine whether or not to grant the requested Presidential permit for the Project at the international border crossing proposed in the amended Presidential permit application (Northern Pass 2015).”

The statement of the agency’s underlying “purpose and need” in an EIS is critical to identifying the range of reasonable alternatives. Obviously, if the “purpose and need” is defined too broadly, the number of alternatives requiring analysis would be virtually limitless. Conversely, it is inappropriate to define “purpose and need” so narrowly that only a single alternative with variants could be identified for realistic and fair analysis (as is the case in this Application). As recognized in DOE’s Recommendations for the Preparation of Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements, (Second Ed., Dec. 2004 at page 5), “The proposed action is generally only one means of meeting the agency’s underlying purpose and need for action.”

The FEIS, as in the DEIS, incorrectly applies a narrow interpretation based on 10 CFR part 250. A purpose and need statement cannot lawfully be premised on the narrow objective of determining whether or not to grant a permit for a particular proposal. Indeed, as written, DOE’s purpose and need statement allows for just one alternative to the approval of the Applicant’s proposal: denial of the project as proposed.

Section 1.4.2 Decision Rationale

The Forest Supervisor’s rationale includes “the benefit from the engagement and valuable input from participating state and federal agencies, particularly, the EPA – Region 1, the USACE – New England District, and the NHOEP, who participated as cooperating agencies.” Ironically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Region 1 (EPA), in a letter dated September 26, 2017 to the USACE-New England District (attached as Appendix 1), reiterates its position that a hybrid Alternative 7, which includes the burial of an additional 40 miles to protect wetlands, needs further analysis. This alternative would also eliminate above ground transmission line segment impacts to the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF).

The Forest Supervisor’s rationale is premature considering this filing by the very agency he cites as crucial to the EIS process. The Forest Supervisor’s rationale also includes: “In addition, the alternatives utilizing I-93 are not consistent with my understanding of NHDOT policies. The 2010 NHDOT Utility Accommodations Manual stipulates that “Longitudinal installations [utility lines] are not permitted within the LAROW [Limited Access ROW, i.e., I-93]” unless the Applicant is capable of demonstrating that “an extreme hardship” would be imposed on the Applicant, and that “alternate locations are not available.” Because the Applicant has proposed the Project configuration as detailed in Alternative 7, which proposes the transmission line to be buried along NH Routes 112 and 116, the Applicant could not demonstrate that “alternate locations are not available,” and/or that “an extreme hardship” would be imposed.” But in contradiction to the Supervisor’s stated rationale, Northern Pass (the Applicant), in its Application before the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), and as reviewed in the US DOE DEIS and FEIS, bases its Preferred Alternative on the assumption that the Project would indeed for the most part be buried under NH Routes 112 and 116, not beside the roadway1 , and therefore would have only short term impacts2 .

The DEIS and FEIS appear to be based on the premise that the 60 miles of buried transmission line is practical and can be buried under the road pavement, as the Applicant originally proposed, but has since backed away from. During the NH Site Evaluation Committee adjudicatory hearing session on September 14th, 2017, the Grafton County Commissioners put into the record that the NH Department of Transportation (DOT) policy in fact prohibits burial under the pavement. Rather, burial needs to occur in the adjacent ROW. As a result, the Applicant is now trying to engineer a project that will actually fit into the NH DOT ROW outside of the roadway, and to receive permission from DOT for such construction. But the incomplete and in many instances erroneous information provided by the Applicant thus far has delayed any true understanding of what burial in the ROW would actually involve, including on what side of the road, and what resources would be impacted. Yet the DEIS, FEIS, and draft ROD all assume the proposed burial route is practical based on burial under the roadway, and based on that premise determine that the impacts would be short term. But that premise is no longer valid.

Clearly the FEIS and draft ROD are premature. It is also ironic that the Applicant made a strong case, which the DEIS, FEIS, and draft ROD adopt, that burial under I-93 through Franconia Notch and south to the target Massachusetts power market would not be permissible due to the ‘2010 NHDOT Utility Accommodations Manual’ preventing under-pavement burial. Yet the Applicant has proposed burial under the pavement of state roads, and this was assumed practical in the DEIS, FEIS and draft ROD, but has now been recently denied by the NH DOT as explained above.

Finally, we will note that the idea of burying the line under the Franconia Notch bikeway as an alternative to burial under I-93 itself was never analyzed as an option for addressing the constraints in Franconia Notch State Park.

[ 1 The FEIS at page 2-44 assumes the burial will primarily be under the roadway , i.e. “Short-term disturbance for the trench and construction activities is assumed to be 10 feet (3 m) wide, with the majority of disturbance limited to the road surface (approximately 30 feet [9 m] wide) and adjacent, previously disturbed areas.” NH DOT has determined that burial under the roadway is contrary to their policy and burial would need to take place outside of the road surface. 2 The FEIS at page 2-44 assumes the burial will primarily be under the roadway , i.e. “Short-term disturbance for the trench and construction activities is assumed to be 10 feet (3 m) wide, with the majority of disturbance limited to the road surface (approximately 30 feet [9 m] wide) and adjacent, previously disturbed areas.”] Public Interest Determination

The Forest Supervisor states, “In contemplating authorization of the Project, I have considered whether the Project is in the public interest. In addition to the Decision Rationale detailed herein, I believe that the Project will benefit the public by providing a low-carbon, cost-effective, and diversified source of electricity for the people of New Hampshire and New England.” However, it has been raised but not thoroughly vetted or verified in either the FEIS or draft ROD, that moving Hydro-Quebec power into the New England market to capture higher prices resulting from the MA Clean Energy 83D Request for Proposal (should Northern Pass win that bid), would actually just be diverting that same power from its current use in New York and Ontario. If that is the case, the question arises as to what would replace the Hydro-Quebec power in New York and Ontario. A recent report states that if the replacement power in those markets is in part or in whole natural gas, then reducing GHG emissions in the New England market at the expense of neighboring states and provinces would result in no to minimal overall GHG benefit3 . The Forest Supervisor did not analyze that possibility, and likely lacks the expertise to make that judgment.

The Forest Supervisor states “Consistent with manual guidance for SUPs, I have considered whether this project could be reasonably accommodated on non-NFS lands.” He concludes no. Yet there are 46 proposals in the MA Clean Energy 83D Request for Proposal (MA Clean Energy RFP), 44 competing with Northern Pass, and many on non-federal lands. In fact, the DEIS and FEIS determine that the existing HVDC line in NH is not a feasible alternative and therefore it was not studied further. But in July 2017, GridAmerica Holdings, a subsidiary of National Grid and the owner of that transmission line, has since developed and submitted a bid into the MA Clean Energy RFP that uses that existing HVDC corridor in NH by upgrading the existing lines to carry the same amount of power as Northern Pass 4 .

In addition, the issue of energy diversity cited by the Supervisor lacks sufficient analysis. As AMC points out in its DEIS comments of April 2016: “The rationale given for this proposed project is in part to promote electricity diversity due to the rapid transition to dependence on natural gas power generation. Hydro-Quebec currently has an export capacity into New England of approximately 2,275 MW and the DEIS projects that this project would increase it by another 31+% . Should the Northern Pass (1,090 MW), the New England Clean Power Link (1,000 MW), and Vermont Green Power Line (400 MW) transmission projects all come to fruition, this would increase the region’s dependency on Hydro-Quebec to over 4,760 MW of capacity. This excludes additional imports from other Canadian provinces. New England-ISO currently has ca. 31,000 MW of capacity, therefore if Hydro-Quebec were to backfill for generation being retired, it has the potential to become a dominant source of the New England-ISO generation capacity. In 2015 Canadian hydropower was approximately 13% of the region’s net electric energy load, and the DEIS estimates that Northern Pass would increase this by 31%. Based on the New England-ISO consumption of 126,874 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2015 and an 80% capacity-use factor for all proposed Hydro-Quebec transmission lines, Hydro-Quebec could approach one quarter of the region’s power generation consumed (GWh). The DEIS at Section 2.5.2 suggests ca. 20%, but that calculation needs to be updated as it appears to not include additional Hydro-  [3 4]

Quebec generation separately bid into the CT/MA/RI RFP (Vermont Green Power Link), or recently permitted transmission (e.g. NECPL) designed to host Hydro-Quebec generation. And this excludes other Hydro-Quebec exports to the US from its subsidiaries in New Brunswick and Newfoundland/Labrador. In summary a continued transition to Hydro-Quebec generation will shift today’s dependency on natural gas towards a dependency on Hydro-Quebec, a shifting of the electrical diversity problem but not necessarily the solving of it (emphasis added). It would put the region’s grid and markets at risk with this increased reliance on power from a sole source provider, a dependency on a few multi-thousand mile long transmission lines which have historically suffered major disruptions about every decade, and the likelihood that if an energy shortage occurred, Quebec’s internal power needs would trump those of New England given that Hydro-Quebec is owned by the Province of Quebec. And like California hydropower this past drought year, future Canadian hydro power generation during the tenure of the Northern Pass project could become less certain due to climatic changes in temperature and precipitation.”

In summary Supervisor Wagner takes at face value the assertions about regional energy needs and diversity concerns that are contradicted by both information placed in the record but not considered by DOE, and new information. That energy policy is not a matter in which Supervisor Wagner has expertise only underscores that his reliance on these issues for his draft ROD decision is flawed.


Susan Arnold
Vice President for Conservation
Appalachian Mountain Club

Cc: Stacy Lemieux, Project Leader WMNF
 Clare R. Mendelsohn, Forest Supervisor WMNF