The R-Project will increase the reliability of NPPD’s transmission system, relieve congestion on NPPD’s existing system, and provide additional opportunities for development of renewable projects, if desired at the local level. Along with these regional benefits, the R-Project will greatly improve reliability in the North Central portion of Nebraska, which is currently still vulnerable to service interruptions during high summer peak loading conditions.
Because the R-Project will cross habitat of the threatened American burying beetle (ABB), NPPD sought an incidental take permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). On June 12, 2019, after a permitting process spanning more than six years, which included USFWS’s preparation of a final environmental impact statement (FEIS), USFWS issued an ITP to NPPD for the R-Project.
In July 2019, a group of R-Project opponents filed a lawsuit challenging USFWS’s decision under the ESA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Historic Preservation Act. On June 17, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued its decision. While the court found in favor of USFWS and NPPD on several counts, it identified certain discrete errors in USFWS’ decision-making process. The court thus vacated and remanded the ITP to USFWS for further proceedings consistent with the court’s order.
On remand, there is need to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to address the issues identified by the court ruling and to address new information and changed circumstances, as relevant. USFWS has independently selected ICF Jones & Stokes, Inc. to assist USFWS as the NEPA third-party contractor for preparation of the SEIS. USFWS will complete the SEIS, and the public will be involved in the process for completing the SEIS, including public review and comment of the draft analysis prepared by USFWS.
USFWS will also need to revise its Biological Opinion under the Endangered Species Act, and the consulting parties will need to revise the Programmatic Agreement regarding historic properties.
Once those processes are complete, USFWS will issue a Record of Decision regarding NPPD’s application for an Incidental Take Permit for the American burying beetle.