NSF Notice of Intent regarding an Extremely Large Telescope (Northern Hemisphere)
Bulletin from National Science Foundation, 07/19/2022
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Initiate Section 106 Consultation for a Potential National Science Foundation Investment in the Construction and Operation of an Extremely Large Telescope Located in the Northern Hemisphere and Notice of Public Scoping Meetings and Comment Period. As described in the notice, the only proposed Northern Hemisphere Extremely Large Telescope is the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), which has a preferred site on Maunakea, Hawai'i Island, Hawaii, and an alternative site on the island of La Palma, Canary Islands.
You are invited to share your comments and perspectives on the scope of the environmental review for this potential future funding decision at four public scoping meetings from August 9 through August 12, 2022; NSF will accept written comments through September 17, 2022. Please visit beta.nsf.gov/tmt for information about the scoping meetings and how you can submit written comments.
NSF understands that the possible construction of the telescope on Maunakea is a sensitive issue that requires meaningful engagement with interested members of the public as well as an understanding of the various perspectives on this important issue. Because many people who have a connection to Maunakea have strong viewpoints about whether TMT should be built there, NSF will go beyond the legal requirements in conducting its environmental review and provide more opportunities for meaningful public engagement at critical junctures during NSF’s processes. These additional opportunities are included in NSF’s Draft Community Engagement Plan (Draft CEP), which was developed to promote effective and meaningful public engagement during NSF’s environmental review. We invite you to review this Draft CEP and provide any comments you may have by the end of the day on September 17, 2022.
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Public input sought by NSF for environmental review of TMT
UH News, July 29, 2022
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking public input on whether it should move forward with a formal environmental review for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea on Hawaiʻi Island.
The process begins with a series of public meetings on Hawaiʻi Island August 9–12. An open comment period runs through September 17 and comments can be submitted in-person at the public meetings or online.
The University of Hawaiʻi has no formal role in the NSF process with the establishment of the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority authorized by the recent adoption of Act 255 (HB2024), however, UH community members are strongly encouraged to participate in the NSF process including its public hearings.
“Whether you support TMT or not, the NSF needs to hear from you,” said UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship Executive Director Greg Chun. “Robust, public participation is key to finding the best path forward for Maunakea and astronomy in Hawaiʻi.”
NSF has developed a Draft Community Engagement Plan to provide multiple opportunities for the public to participate in the environmental review process, which will include a 2–3 day interactive and NSF-facilitated workshop designed to develop a plan to define and practice responsible astronomy in Hawaiʻi. The public is invited to comment on draft study plans that outline the scope and methodology to be used in any studies that may be conducted as part of the environmental review.
On July 19, 2022, the NSF posted in the Federal Register, its Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and Initiate Section 106 Consultation for a Potential National Science Foundation Investment in the Construction and Operation of an Extremely Large Telescope Located in the Northern Hemisphere and Notice of Public Scoping Meetings and Comment Period. This notice officially starts (1) the public scoping process for NSF’s environmental impact statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act related to the proposed project’s impacts to resources, and (2) public consultation required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act related to the proposed project’s impacts specifically on properties that are on or qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. For more details, please review NSF’s Notice of Intent.
According to NSF, informal outreach efforts by NSF on Hawaiʻi Island began in August 2020 and formally concluded in November 2021. Meetings were held with approximately 150 people regarding perspectives on TMT and astronomy on Maunakea. NSF also received 140 written comments during this timeframe.
Visit the NSF website for more information on scheduled public meetings or to submit comments.
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FAQs Regarding National Science Foundation’s TMT Impact Study and Consultation Process
(Wake up and smell the Simoleons: The word 'fund' or 'funding' occurs 14 times in this NHLC news release.)
News release from Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, July 19, 2022
Today the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it is considering whether to provide up to $850 million in requested funding for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) project. As part of the consideration process, NSF intends to proceed with two legally required steps. One is a study of TMT’s environmental and cultural impact. Another is a formal consultation with community stakeholders as required by the National Historic Preservation Act for federal agencies considering projects impacting historic sites.
NSF’s impact study and the consultation process are important opportunities for kiaʻi to fight for the protection of Mauna Kea and demand that the Biden administration make good on its promise to honor the rights and interests of indigenous communities regarding the stewardship of their lands and sacred sites.
Is NSF funding important?
NSF funding could contribute a significant portion of TMT’s projected construction costs, which according to a recent report may be more than $2.5 billion. NSF’s decision could determine the future of the TMT.
Can the TMT be built without NSF funding?
If NSF decides not to fund or invest in TMT, that would be a set back for the project. The TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO) was created to carry out construction and operation of the TMT project. Two sites have been considered for TMT—Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi and La Palma in the Canary Islands. TIO prefers Hawaiʻi, and NSF is evaluating the project for construction in Hawaiʻi. TMT cannot be developed in Hawai’i unless the required permits and approvals are granted. There is on going legal process regarding those permits and approvals. NSF’s decision does not impact that legal process. The funding is important, however, because even if TIO receives the permits required to build, TIO might not have sufficient construction and maintenance funds for TMT without NSF support.
Reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine over the last dozen years have repeatedly noted that TMT does not have the commitment of funds necessary for successful completion and maintenance, including most recently in the 2020 decadal survey often referred to as Astro2020.
Has NSF considered funding TMT before?
Conversation regarding financial support for TMT by NSF has been underway in the astronomy community since the earliest days of the project in the early 2000s. Most recently in 2020, NSF published a statement confirming that it received funding proposals for support of the TMT project. NSF acknowledged “sensitive issues” regarding the placement of TMT on Mauna Kea, and announced it would engaged in “early and informal” outreach efforts to stakeholders, including Native Hawaiians to “listen to and seek an understanding of their viewpoints.” Kiaʻi raised significant moral and legal objections to the TMT in that informal process. Today’s announcement means that NSF continues to consider funding for the TMT at the urging of the scientific community despite the concerns expressed in the informal consultation process.
What happens next?
NSF funding is far from a done deal. Before deciding whether to fund TMT, NSF must study TMT’s environmental and cultural impacts and engage in formal consultation with stakeholders in the Native Hawaiian community. The Biden Administration has made a commitment to honor indigenous communities in its decision making. The study and consultation process is an important opportunity for kiaʻi to be heard and advocate for the pono stewardship of Mauna Kea.
Those who want to voice their objections to TMT and reiterate their beliefs regarding Mauna Kea can participate. It is an opportunity for the lāhui to advocate that the Biden Administration follow indigenous communities’ lead in managing their lands, consistent with the Administration's promises and public policy to Indigenous Americans.
How can I participate in the consultation?
You can access NSF’s notice, find more information on the public consultation process, and submit comments here. To start, NSF is holding public meetings on the scope of its environmental review on the Island of Hawai’i from August 9-12, 2022:
• Hilo: August 9, 2022, at the Grand Naniloa Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Crown Room, 93 Banyan Dr., Hilo, HI 96720.
• Naalehu: August 10, 2022, at the Naalehu Community Center, 95-5635 Hawaii Belt Rd., Naalehu, HI 96772.
• Kona: August 11, 2022, at the Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa, Kaleiopapa Convention Center, 78-128 Ehukai St., Kailua-Kona, HI 96740.
• Kamuela (Waimea): August 12, 2022, at the Kahilu Town Hall, 67-1182 Lindsey Rd., Kamuela, HI 96743.
Both written and verbal testimony will be accepted. These meetings allow the public to provide feedback on the issues that will considered in the EIS and consultation process, as well as NSF’s plan for outreach and consultation. There will also be an accompanying public comment period open on July 19, 2022, and closing on September 17, 2022. Those interested in having their voices heard should participate to the fullest extent possible in this process, including attending the meetings and providing comments during this comment period.
What has the Biden Administration promised?
President Biden promised in the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations that his administration will “protect sacred sites and public lands and waters with high conservation and cultural values.” President Biden also committed to providing indigenous communities with a “greater role in the care and management of public lands that are of cultural significance.” Kiaʻi have an opportunity in this process to remind NSF of the administration’s promises to Indigenous Americans and demand that NSF act accordingly to the public policy of the Biden Administration when considering TMT, any other projects on Mauna Kea, and any projects on sacred sites in Hawaiʻi.