2. A Combination of Alternative 2, Alternative 4 and the Proposed Project is Environmentally Preferred
As set forth above, Alternative 2 has certain advantages relating to noise and socioeconomics. From the standpoint of visual resources and fire fighting, both alternatives have significant adverse impacts, although these impacts are mitigated to a greater degree with Alternative 2. The combination of Alternative 2 and Alternative 4 is a substantial improvement over Alternative 2 alone. The combination of Alternatives 2 and 4 avoids or further reduces long-term effects related to noise, land use, and socioeconomics. From the standpoint of effects on ANF lands and compliance with Forest Plan policies, Alternative 2 or the combination of Alternatives 2 and 4 clearly has greater impacts than Alternative 5. However, when considering the whole of action without placing added emphasis on forest impacts and issues, the combination of Alternatives 2 and 4 is superior to Alternative 5, and would result in the fewest significant unavoidable (Class I) impacts overall.
C. Project Authorization
Based on the foregoing considerations above, we authorize SCE to construct the proposed Project with the following routing conditions:
· The middle portion of the Project should be built on the east mid-slope of Del Sur Ridge and closer to Bouquet Canyon (Alternative 2); and
· The Project should be re-routed between miles 17.5 and 20.3 around the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch and the proposed meadow park development neat Santa Clarita (Alternative 4).
The Final EIR/EIS has identified unavoidable significant impacts that will result from construction and operation of the authorized project. Section 15093(b) of the CEQA Guidelines29 provides that, when the decision of the public agency allows the occurrence of significant impacts which are identified in the EIR but are not at least substantially mitigated, the agency must state in writing the reasons to support its action based on the completed EIR and/or other information in the record. CEQA Guidelines § 15093(b) requires that the decision-maker adopt a Statement of Overriding Considerations at the time of approval of the project if it finds that significant adverse environmental effects have been identified in the EIR that cannot be substantially mitigated to an insignificant level or be eliminated.
The following impacts are not mitigated to a less than significant level for the proposed project:
· Visual impacts of project construction and operation, discussed in detail in Section VII.A above;
· Impacts on forest management activities, in particular, on wildland fire suppression and fire prevention, as discussed in detail in Section VII.B above;
· Impacts on land use and public recreation, in particular, on certain existing residential, commercial and recreational uses, as discussed in Section VII.C above;
· Socioeconomic impacts on the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch and on some existing housing in Leona Valley, as discussed in Section VII.D above;
· Noise impacts of project construction, of routine inspection and maintenance, on certain recreational uses and on the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch, as discussed in Section VII.E above; and
· Air quality impacts of project construction, as discussed in Section VII.F above.
Adoption of one or more alternatives to the proposed project could eliminate some of these identified impacts. Specifically, the Commission's adoption of Alternative 2 would avoid certain visual impacts, would significantly reduce impacts on forest management activities and would eliminate significant impacts in terms of the recreational use of OHVs. In addition, the Commission's adoption of Alternative 4 would eliminate the visual, land use, socioeconomic and noise impacts on the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch. Neither of these alternatives, by themselves, would create new, or additional, adverse impacts.
Moreover, the Commission's determination not to adopt Alternative 5 would eliminate the unmitigable visual, socioeconomic and recreational impacts that are associated solely with that alternative.
None of the other alternatives alleviate the remaining significant impacts or are feasible in light of the project objectives, as described in Appendix 1 to the Final EIR/EIS (Alternatives Screening Report).
Pursuant to Public Resources Code § 21080 and CEQA Guidelines§ 15091, we may not approve or carry out a project for which an EIR has been certified which identifies one or more significant effect on the environmental that would occur if the project is approved or carried out unless we make one or more of the following findings with respect to each significant effect:
· Changes or alterations have been required in, or incorporated into, the project which mitigate or avoid the significant effects on the environment;
· Those changes or alterations are within the responsibility and jurisdiction of another public agency and have been, or can and should be, adopted by that other agency; or
· Specific economic, legal, social, technological, or other considerations, including considerations for the provision of employment opportunities for highly trained workers, make infeasible the mitigation measures or alternatives identified in the environmental impact report.
In compliance with these requirements, we have made one or more of the findings set forth above with respect to each significant effect identified in the Final EIR/EIS. These findings are incorporated as part of this Decision as Attachment B, CEQA Findings of Fact. We adopt the CEQA Findings of Fact included in Attachment B as if fully set forth herein.
Additionally, the Commission adopts the following Statement of Overriding Considerations.
D. Statement of Overriding Considerations
The Commission recognizes that significant and unavoidable impacts will result from implementation of the proposed Antelope-Pardee Transmission Project. Having (i) adopted all feasible mitigation measures, (ii) adopted certain alternatives that reduce the impacts of the proposed project, (iii) rejected as infeasible other alternatives to the project, (iv) recognized all significant, unavoidable impacts, and (v) balanced the benefits of the project against the project's significant and unavoidable impacts, the Commission hereby finds that specific economic, legal, social, technological and other benefits outweigh and override the significant unavoidable environmental impacts for the reasons stated below.
The project will:
(1) enable compliance with the State's RPS Program, which requires retail sellers of electricity such as SCE and PG&E to increase their sale of electricity produced by renewable energy sources to 20 percent by 2010;
(2) enable the interconnection of various wind generation projects in the Antelope Valley-Tehachapi region to the SCE transmission system;
(3) eliminate existing constraints to the transmission of renewable energy from the Tehachapi and Antelope Valley areas to Southern California; and
(4) eliminate potential system-wide power flow and reliability problems due to overloading of the existing transmission system.
We set forth in detail the reasons for finding these substantial benefits in Section III above. Specifically, without system improvements provided by the Project, SCE and others could not deliver the necessary significant amounts of wind power from the region. As discussed above, wind provides one of the most economical sources of renewable power, and the Tehachapi area offers the largest wind resource in California and has the undeveloped potential of generating about 1400 gigawatt-hours per year, with about 4500 MWs of installed capacity. Additionally, there is significant industry commitment to develop the area for RPS purposes; utilities have received winning bids from, and SCE has signed contracts with, developers of wind projects, the output of which cannot be fully delivered without increased transmission capacity that the proposed project will provide.
The Commission finds that the Antelope-Pardee Transmission Project's unavoidable impacts are acceptable in light of these substantial benefits. Each benefit set forth above constitutes an overriding consideration warranting approval of the project, independent of the other benefits, despite each and every significant unavoidable impact.
E. Mitigation Monitoring
The Final EIR/EIS includes a proposed Mitigation Monitoring, Compliance, and Reporting Program (MMCRP or Mitigation Monitoring Program) for the mitigation measures it recommends for the proposed project. It recommends a framework for implementation of the Mitigation Monitoring Program by this Commission as the CEQA lead agency and the USFS as the NEPA lead agency. We adopt the Mitigation Monitoring Program set forth in Appendix 9 of the Final EIR/EIS.
Consistent with Public Resources Code § 21081.6 and CEQA Guidelines § 15097, the Commission must adopt a Mitigation Monitoring Program when it approves a project that is subject to preparation of an EIR and where the EIR identifies significant adverse environmental effects. As the NEPA lead agency, the USFS is responsible for ensuring that mitigation measures are implemented on its land. In the memorandum of understanding between the USFS and the Commission governing the joint environmental review of the proposed project, the USFS and the Commission have agreed that the Commission is delegated field inspection responsibility for ensuring implementation of all adopted mitigation and monitoring provisions imposed in connection approval of the proposed project.
The USFS has agreed to provide the Commission access to federal lands as needed to conduct the adopted mitigation and monitoring activities.
29 The CEQA Guidelines are set forth at California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Chapter 3.