A. Adequacy and Certification of the Final EIR/EIS
The Final EIR/EIS must contain specific information according to the CEQA Guidelines, §§ 15120 through 15132.23 The various elements of the Final EIR/EIS satisfy these CEQA requirements. The Final EIR/EIS consists of the draft EIR/EIS, with revisions in response to comments and other information received. Volume 2 of the Final EIR/EIS contains the comments received on the draft EIR/EIS and individual responses to these comments.24
The Commission must conclude that the Final EIR/EIS is in compliance with CEQA before approving SCE's request for a CPCN. The basic purpose of this determination is to ensure that the environmental document is a comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased tool to be used by the lead agency and other decision makers in addressing the merits of the proposed project. The document should embody "an interdisciplinary approach that will ensure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the consideration of qualitative as well as quantitative factors."25 It must be prepared in a clear format and in plain language.26 It must be analytical rather than encyclopedic, and emphasize alternatives over unnecessary description of the project.27 Most importantly, it must be "organized and written in such a manner that [it] will be meaningful and useful to decision makers and the public."28
In accordance with State CEQA Guidelines §15090, the CPUC, as California Lead Agency for the Project, certifies that:
(1) The Final EIR/EIS has been completed in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act;
(2) The Final EIR/EIS was presented to the Commission, and the Commission has received, reviewed, and considered the information contained in the Final EIR/EIS and hearing documents prior to approving the project; and
(3) The Final EIR/EIS reflects the CPUC's independent judgment and analysis.
We find that the Final EIR/EIS is a comprehensive, detailed, and complete document that discusses clearly the advantages and disadvantages of the environmentally superior routes, SCE's proposed route, and various alternatives. We find that the Final EIR/EIS is a competent and comprehensive informational tool, as CEQA requires it to be. The quality of the information in the Final EIR/EIS is such that we are confident of its accuracy. We have considered the information in the Final EIR/EIS in approving the Antelope-Pardee Transmission Project as described in this Decision. Accordingly, the Commission should certify the Final EIR/EIS.
B. Environmentally Superior Alternative
In accordance with CEQA requirements, an "environmentally superior alternative" must be identified among the alternatives analyzed in the EIR/EIS. The environmentally superior alternative is the alternative found to have an overall environmental advantage compared to the other alternatives based on the impact analysis in the EIR/EIS.
If the environmentally superior alternative is the "no project" alternative, the EIR must identify an environmentally superior alternative among the other alternatives. As described in Section B.4.6 of the Final EIR/EIS, the locations and development schedules for construction and operation of new power plants and transmission infrastructure that would be constructed if the proposed project is not implemented cannot be predicted and, as such, it is impossible to identify the impacts that would occur from alternative energy projects under the No Project Alternative; therefore, the No Project Alternative was not considered as part of the environmentally superior alternative analysis in the EIR/EIS. Accordingly, the Final EIR/EIS for the proposed project provides a comparison of the proposed project and alternatives by environmental issue area, based on the detailed analyses contained in Sections C.2 to C.15 of the Final EIR/EIS. The detailed version of this comparison can be found in Section D of the Final EIR/EIS. A summary of the comparison can be found at pages ES-20 to ES-28 of the Final EIR/EIS. In that comparative analysis, noteworthy differences between the alternatives, and the alternative(s) which would have the least environmental impact, are identified on an issue-by-issue basis. That analysis is provided to support the recommendation for the environmentally superior alternative, which is provided at pages D-37 to D-42 and pages ES-28 to ES-30 of the Final EIR/EIS.
In order to make such a determination, the Final EIR/EIS focuses on those issue areas that have the greatest potential for resulting in long-term, significant impacts, which include visual resources, forest management activities, erosion, land use, public recreation, socioeconomics, and noise. Consideration was also given to community concerns, such as air quality, EMF, and corona noise, as well as public safety concerns, such as fire safety. Impacts associated with construction (i.e., temporary or short-term) or those that are easily mitigated to less-than-significant levels were given consideration, but were considered less important than permanent impacts.
To a large degree, the major differences among the alternatives studied in the Final EIR/EIS revolve around the fact that most alternative routes cut across ANF lands, while one alternative (Alternative 5) largely avoids ANF lands. This major routing difference creates substantial differences between Alternative 5 and the other alternative routes, including the proposed Project.
There are basically three alternative routes that traverse the ANF: the proposed Project, Alternative 1, and Alternative 2. Alternatives 3 and 4 are only substantially different from these other routes outside the ANF. It is clear that Alternative 1, which involves placing the transmission line underground on Del Sur Ridge, has substantially greater impacts than the proposed project and Alternative 2. Alternative 2 is preferable to the proposed project for reasons primarily dealing with visual resources and fire fighting. Therefore, the environmental advantages and disadvantages of an ANF versus a non-ANF route can best be determined by comparing Alternative 2 and Alternative 5.
Another route to consider is the combination of Alternatives 2 and 4. Unlike most of the other routing options, these two alternatives can be readily combined to form a hybrid alternative. The advantage of considering such a hybrid alternative is that Alternative 4 avoids certain specific impacts associated with Alternative 2 alone and also avoids most of the non-ANF impacts associated with Alternative 5.
23 California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Chapter 3, §§ 15120 through 15132.
24 Id., § 15132.
25 Id., § 15142.
26 Id., §§ 15006(q) and (r), 15120, 15140.
27 Id., §§ 15006, 15141; Pub. Res. Code § 21003(c).
28 Pub. Res. Code § 21003(b).