Letter from the Department of the Interior to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

dep int

In Reply Refer To: (ER 14/0001) (ER 14/0004 ).

Mr. Eli Veenendaal
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20230

Dear Mr. Veenendaal:

The Department of the Interior (Department) has reviewed the above referenced proposal and submits the following comments and attachment for consideration. Because the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is a newly created entity, we commend the U.S. Department of Commerce for its timely proposals for NEPA implementing procedures.

The Department believes that some of the proposed procedures are not consistent with Executive Order 13186 Responsibilities ofFederal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds, which specifically requires federal agencies to develop and use principles, standards, and practices that will lessen the amount of unintentional take reasonably attributed to agency actions. The Department, through the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), finds that the proposals lack provisions necessary to conserve migratory bird resources, including eagles. The proposals also do not reflect current information regarding the effects of communication towers to birds. Our comments are intended to further clarify specific issues and address provisions in the proposals.

The Department recommends revisions to the proposed procedures to better reflect the impacts to resources under our jurisdiction from communication towers. The placement and operation of communication towers, including un-guyed, unlit, monopole or lattice-designed structures, impact protected migratory birds in two significant ways. The first is by injury, crippling loss, and death from collisions with towers and their supporting guy-wire infrastructure, where present. The second significant issue associated with communication towers involves impacts from non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation emitted by them (See Attachment).

In addition to the 14 7 Birds of Conservation Concern (BCC) species, the FWS has listed an additional 92 species as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Together with the bald and golden eagle, this represents 241 species of birds whose populations are in trouble or otherwise merit special protection, according to the varying criteria of these lists. The Department suggests that FirstNet consider preparing a programmatic environmental impact statement (see attachment) to determine and address cumulative impacts from authorizing FirstNet projects on those 241 species for which the incremental impact of tower mortality, when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions, is most likely significant,

given their overall imperiled status. Notwithstanding the proposed implementing procedures, a programmatic NEP A document might be the most effective and efficient method for establishing best management practices for individual projects, reducing the burden to individual applicants, and addressing cumulative impacts.

Categorical Exclusions
The Department has identified 13 of the proposed categorical exclusions (A-6, A-7, A-8, A-9, A-10, A-11, A-12, A-13, A-14 A-15, A-16, A-17, and A-19) as having the potential to significantly affect wildlife and the biological environment. Given this potential, we want to underscore the importance of our comments on FirstNet’s procedural guidance under Environmental Review and Consultation Requirements for NEP A Reviews and its list of extraordinary circumstances in Appendix D.

Environmental Review and Consultation Requirements for NEP A Reviews
To ensure there are no potentially significant impacts on birds from projects that may otherwise be categorically excluded, the Department recommends including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to the list of requirements in this section.

Extraordinary Circumstances
To avoid potentially significant impacts on birds from projects that may otherwise be categorically excluded, the Department recommends including species covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to the list of environmentally sensitive resources. Additionally, adding important resources to migratory birds such as sites in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and Audubon Important Bird Areas to the paragraph on areas having special designation or recognition would help ensure their consideration when contemplating use of a categorical exclusion.

Developing the Purpose and Need
The Department recommends inclusion of language that would ensure consideration of all other authorities to which NEPA is supplemental as opposed to simply the FirstNet mission. As currently written, the procedures are limited to ensuring the purpose and need considers the FirstNet mission. If strictly applied, this approach would severely limit the range of reasonable alternatives, and likely preclude consideration of more environmentally benign locations or construction practices.

Environmental Review Process, Apply NEP A Early in the Process, Where Action is by Non-Federal Entity
The Department recommends that FirstNet be required to coordinate with federal agencies having jurisdiction by law or special expertise on construction and lighting of its network of towers.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft document. If you have any questions concerning the comments, please contact Diana Whittington, NEP A Migratory Bird lead, at (703) 358-2010. If you have any questions regarding Departmental NEPA procedures, contact Lisa Treichel, Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance at (202) 208-7116.

Willie R. Taylor
Director, Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance

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