Conservation organizations and a western Colorado county today filed a legal challenge to a Bush-era plan that designated energy corridors that promote coal-fired and other fossil-fuel power plants. Instead of building new electric lines and transmission towers to connect areas high in solar, wind, and geothermal energy, the Bush plan envisioned building them to serve existing or proposed dirty coal plants. The Bush plan also inadequately supports the Obama administration's efforts to guide solar development to the most ecologically, economically, and technologically suitable places on the public lands for solar energy development. The legal challenge filed today aims to redirect new transmission lines so they link clean energy areas to consumers.
The Bush corridors plan ignores the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) adopted by nine of the eleven western states to increase use of the region's vast wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. The approximately 6,000 miles and 3.2 million acres of federal land in eleven western states designated as energy corridors puts imperiled wildlife at risk and slices or brushes against the borders of iconic public lands. Among these are Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Arches National Park, and New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.
To the dismay of local officials, the corridors cut through local jurisdictions, something they learned of after the fact.
"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" said Art Goodtimes, County Commissioner from San Miguel County, Colorado, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "We hope the Obama administration will work with us to fix the flaws in this hasty, ill-conceived plan."
The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) required federal agencies to designate corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal land. The Bush administration ignored provisions in EPAct directing agency personnel to consult with local and state governments and evaluate environmental damage. The agencies ignored testimony at a congressional oversight hearing and thousands of written comments from citizens, western governors and community leaders that provided a blueprint for smart, environmentally sensitive energy corridors that would support renewable energy. Instead they only considered the single network of corridors favored by industry.
"These corridors could have identified the best places for moving green energy across our public lands, but the Bush administration ignored available scientific data and proposed corridors that threaten the scenic, cultural, and natural values of some of America's most popular and beloved public lands," said Nada Culver, senior counsel for The Wilderness Society. "The Obama administration has an opportunity to bring this plan in line with the West's goals to tap into its renewable energy potential while also protecting the region's wildlife and special places."
The top-down approach of the West-wide corridors plan stands in stark contrast to the Western Governors' Association Western Renewable Energy Zone Initiative (WREZ). The governors' proposal brings together energy and wildlife experts, conservation groups, industry, and community leaders to identify transmission corridors geared to clean, renewable energy. This better serves the West's growing demand for electricity.
"We need energy corridors that link tomorrow's clean energy sources to America's cities rather than putting in transmission towers and lines that are hopelessly bound to yesterday's dirty energy," said Earthjustice attorney Kate Renshaw. "Our aim in this action dovetails nicely with the stated aims of the Obama administration to usher in energy from the sun, the wind, and geothermal power."
In designating the corridors, the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service did not consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), to determine how the corridors would harm animals and plants listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Nor did they give any thought to how best to avoid such impacts. Such consultation is required under the Endangered Species Act, and NOAA Fisheries informed the agencies that risks to salmon and other species entitled the agency to provide crucial input.
"The West-wide corridors perpetuate the coal infrastructure that must become obsolete very soon if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change," said Amy Atwood, Public Lands Energy Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We must develop a West-wide Energy Corridor that facilitates a rapid transition to a green energy economy while doing everything we can to protect the West's wildlife and ecosystems."
The legal challenge was filed today in the federal court of the Northern District of California. Earthjustice is representing Bark; Center for Biological Diversity; County of San Miguel, Colorado; Defenders of Wildlife; Great Old Broads for Wilderness; Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center; National Parks Conservation Association; National Trust for Historic Preservation; Natural Resources Defense Council; Oregon Natural Desert Association; Sierra Club; Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; The Wilderness Society; Western Resource Advocates; and Western Watersheds Project.
Read the complaint (PDF)
Katie Renshaw, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 220
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, (303) 650-5818, ext. 117
Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 283-5474
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