Suit alleges 6,000-mile corridor would threaten wildlife and some of the West's most scenic lands, all while ignoring the push for renewable energy in the region.
Editor’s Note: Courtney Lowery is editor of NewWest.Net, where this article first appeared.
Several environmental groups and one county in Colorado filed a lawsuit this week, saying the energy corridor the Bush administration designated through thousands of miles in the West doesn’t do enough to encourage renewable energy and it puts wildlife and public lands at risk.
In the complaint filed in federal district court in San Francisco, the coalition writes:
“Rather than take this opportunity to transition the region toward a new energy pathway, the agencies – which include the Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service (collectively “Agencies”) – created a sprawling, hopscotch network of 6,000 miles of rights-of-way known as the “West-wide Energy Corridors,” without considering the environmental impacts of that designation, without analyzing any alternatives to their preferred pathways, without considering numerous federal policies that support renewable energy development, without ensuring the corridors’ consistency with federal and local land use plans, and without consulting other federal agencies or western states and local governments.”
The complaint alleges that the federal government violated several laws in creating the corridor, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act.
The Colorado county involved in the suit is San Miguel County, where Art Goodtimes is a county commissioner. Goodtimes said in a release: “We need the federal government working side by side with our Western governors and local leaders to build a new energy economy for the West, based on clean, renewable energy sources. We hope the Obama administration will work with us to fix the flaws in this hasty, ill-conceived plan.”
Others named in the filing as plaintiffs include: Oregon Natural Desert Association; Sierra Club; Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; The Wilderness Society; Western Resource Advocates; Western Watersheds Project; the Center for Biological Diversity; Defenders of Wildlife; Great Old Broads for Wilderness; Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center; National Parks Conservation Association; National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy first mapped the 6,000-mile corridor, spanning 11 Western states, in 2005 as part of the 2005 Energy Act, legislation the groups now allege the government violated.
A BLM spokeswoman would not comment to the Associated Press, saying the government could not speak on the pending litigation.
You can read more information on the project, as well as see or download the maps of the corridors (including maps of the environmental impact statements the agencies performed) here.
The agencies completed a “programmatic” environmental impact statement late last year after taking public comments in 2006 to the first draft of the maps and then a draft of the environmental impact statement. According to the Department of Energy, 82 percent of the corridors are on BLM land, 16 percent are on Forest Service land and the other 2 percent are on National Park land, Bureau of Reclamation land or Department of Defense property.
The Department of Energy late last year said in a release: “In some cases, corridors intersect or approach sensitive lands or resources. Most often these intersections follow existing infrastructure such as highways, transmission lines or pipelines to avoid placing corridors in “greenfield” (undeveloped) locations.”
The lawsuit says the corridor would “impermissibly cross or impact lands with high conservation, scenic, natural, and other values,” including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Arches National Park in Utah, the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho, Colorado’s Naturita Canyon in Colorado and the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.