New FCC order gives public comment opportunity prior to new tower application filings

The FCC adopted an order Dec. 6 to put in place procedures to ensure the impact of communications towers on the environment, including migratory birds, is fully considered before construction starts.

The order, released to the public Dec. 9, responds to a decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the American Bird Conservancy vs. FCC, which found the existing FCC antenna structure registration procedures failed to give the public a meaningful chance to request an Environmental Assessment (EA) of a proposed antenna structure.

The order sets up a “pre-application notification process” to give the public a chance to comment on how a proposed antenna structure will affect the environment. The commission also took an interim step requiring an EA to be prepared for any proposed tower more than 450 feet high. The step will remain a temporary requirement until the commission completes a programmatic environmental analysis and subsequent rulemaking proceeding.

The order requires that prior to filing a completed antenna structure registration (ASR) application for a new tower that the public have a chance to comment on the environmental effects of the proposed structure. Applicants must provide a notice of the proposed structure to the local community, and the commission will post information about it on the agency’s website. It also requires an environmental notice if an ASR applicant changes an existing tower’s lighting to a less preferred style.

The new procedures also require that EAs for registered towers requiring EAs will be filed and considered before the ASR application.
The commission set up 450 feet above ground level as the threshold for towers subject to the new rules because it is consistent with evidence in its Migratory Birds rulemaking record and elsewhere. “Data from existing studies show no evidence of large-scale mortality for towers less than approximately that height,” the order said.