Summary: H.R.2358 — 114th Congress (2015-2016)All Information (Except Text)

Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

Shown Here:
Reported to House amended, Part I (10/06/2015)

Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act

(Sec. 2) This bill requires the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), with respect to lands under their respective jurisdictions, to provide direction under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to ensure that all existing and future rights-of-way for electrical transmission and distribution facilities on such lands include requirements meeting specified criteria for utility vegetation management, facility inspection, and operation and maintenance activities.

Interior and the USDA shall: (1) give facility owners and operators the option to submit their own vegetation management, facility inspection, and operation and maintenance plans for approval; and (2) develop jointly a consolidated and coordinated process for review and approval of those plans.

Interior and the USDA shall apply their respective categorical exclusion processes under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to any plans developed on existing transmission and distribution rights-of-way located on lands under their respective jurisdictions.

(A "categorical exclusion" under NEPA is a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and which have been found to have no such effect in procedures adopted by a federal agency in implementing environmental regulations and for which, therefore, neither an Environmental Assessment nor an Environmental Impact Statement is required.)

A plan approved under this section shall become part of the authorization governing the covered right-of-way and hazard trees adjacent to that right-of-way. A hazard tree is any tree inside or located outside a right-of-way that has been found by either the transmission or distribution facility owner or operator, or by Interior or the USDA, to be likely to fail and cause a high risk of injury, damage, or disruption within 10 feet or less of an electric power line or related structure if it fell.

If vegetation on federal lands within, or hazard trees on federal lands adjacent to, an electrical transmission or distribution right-of-way granted by Interior or the USDA has contacted, or is in imminent danger of contacting, one or more electric transmission or distribution lines, the owner or operator:

  • may prune or remove the vegetation to avoid disruption of electric service and risk of fire; and
  • shall notify the local agent of the relevant Department within 24 hours after such removal.

The owner or operator of a transmission or distribution facility, after notifying Interior or the USDA, as appropriate, may also conduct vegetation management activities on federal lands to meet clearance requirements under standards established by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation or by state and local authorities.

An owner or operator of a transmission or distribution facility shall not be held liable for wildfire damage, loss, or injury, including the cost of fire suppression, if Interior or the USDA fails to allow it to:

  • operate consistently with an approved vegetation management, facility inspection, and operation and maintenance plan on federal lands within or adjacent to a right-of-way to comply with federal, state, or local electric system reliability and fire safety standards; or
  • perform vegetation management activities in response to an identified hazard tree or a tree in imminent danger of contacting the owner's or operator's transmission or distribution facility.

Interior and the USDA should develop a program to train their personnel involved in vegetation management decisions relating to transmission and distribution facilities to ensure that they:

  • understand electric system reliability and fire safety requirements,
  • assist transmission and distribution facility owners and operators to comply with applicable electric reliability and fire safety requirements, and
  • encourage and assist willing owners and operators to incorporate voluntarily vegetation management practices to enhance habitats and forage for pollinators and for other wildlife so long as those practices are compatible with the integrated vegetation management practices necessary for reliability and safety.