BLM adopts categorical exclusions to expedite geothermal energy permitting



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Tungsten Mountain Geothermal Power Plant
Tungsten Mountain Geothermal Power Plant.

WASHINGTON – To improve permitting of geothermal energy exploration on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management today adopted two existing categorical exclusions from the United States Forest Service and the Department of the Navy. The categorical exclusions will enable the agency to expedite the review and approval of geothermal exploration proposals.

“Geothermal energy is one of the technologies that can move our country toward a clean energy future,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “It only makes sense to use the same streamlined processes for permitting geothermal exploration that other government agencies have proven can work.”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), categorical exclusions define activities that as a whole have been determined to pose no significant risk to the quality of the human environment. Used appropriately, these exclusions alleviate the need to prepare an environmental assessment as part of the permitting process. The categorical exclusions adopted today apply only to geothermal exploration operations on public land. Subsequent development of a geothermal resource would require additional NEPA analysis.

In considering permits for notices of intent to explore for geothermal resources, the BLM may use either the Forest Service or Navy categorical exclusion to support its decision. If a categorical exclusion is used, the BLM will indicate how the proposed action fits with whichever categorical exclusion is used, in accordance with applicable NEPA or geothermal program guidance. The BLM will also check in each instance for special circumstances that may require the preparation of an environmental assessment.

The Department of the Interior will adopt, in a Federal Register notice, the categorical exclusions under Section 109 of NEPA, as amended by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. That law allows a federal agency to adopt an applicable categorical exclusion listed in another agency’s NEPA procedures.

Replenished by heat sources deep in the Earth, geothermal energy generates baseload electricity with minimal carbon emissions. It is abundant especially in the West, where the BLM has authority to manage geothermal leasing on approximately 245 million acres of public lands (and another 104 million acres of U.S. Forest Service lands). Geothermal energy is also used to heat buildings and operate greenhouses and aquaculture operations.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.