This bill would require that all existing and future Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service rights-of-way agreements with electric utilities include plans for controlling vegetation that could interfere with transmission and cause forest fires. Such plans would enable the operator of a facility to keep it in good working order while complying with federal, state, and local requirements without having to get case-by-case or annual approvals for vegetation management activities.
Plans would be developed in consultation with the holder of the right-of-way, and facility owners would have the option of submitting a plan to federal agencies which are to be tasked with developing a process for reviewing and approving the plans. The Depts. of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior, which oversee the BLM and Forest Service, would apply its categorical exclusion process to the vegetation maintenance plans which excludes actions that have no effect on the human environment from requirements to conduct an environmental impact statement.
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 USDA has contacted or is imminent danger of contacting transmission or distribution lines the owner:
May prune or remove the vegetation or hazard tree to avoid disruption of electric service and risk of fire;
Would notify the local agent of the relevant agency within 24 hours of the removal.
An owner or operator of a transmission or distribution facility wouldn’t be held liable for wildfire damages, loss, or injury, including the cost of fire suppression if Interior or USDA fail to allow it to:
Operate with an approved vegetation management, facility inspection, operation, and maintenance plan based on relevant electric system reliability and fire safety standards;
Perform vegetation management activities in response to a hazard tree.
Owners or operators wouldn’t have to submit a vegetation management, facility inspection, operation, and maintenance plan if one has already been approved by Interior or USDA before this bill’s enactment.