Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Federal government, conservation groups reach settlement in energy corridor lawsuit

Some provisions of a federal plan to designate thousands of miles of energy corridors across public lands in 11 western U.S. states will be revised under a settlement reached last month between federal land managers and environmental groups and San Miguel County Colorado. Under the settlement, approved July 11 by U.S. District Court judges in San Francisco, federal officials must do more analysis of the environmental impacts to the land in areas where some trails, historical sites and sensitive wildlife habitat could be affected by the planned energy corridors.

SUWA, The Wilderness Society, and the National Park Conservation Association sued the Interior Department and other federal agencies, over the Jan. 14, 2009 designation of 6,000 linear miles of energy corridors on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands throughout the West.

Under the settlement, the BLM, Forest Service, and DOE will be required to create an agreement that outlines procedures to periodically review the corridors to assess the need for corridor revisions, deletions, and additions, said Blake Androff, deputy director of communications for the DOI.

The settlement also requires analysis of environmentally sensitive areas, the impact on landscape and the inclusion of renewable energy projects when appropriate, all issues Thomas says were not a major priority in the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Studies performed by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council and Western Governor’s Association, must also be included in the analysis, and public input is now a mandatory element in deciding where a corridor should be located, Thomas said.

Many of the corridors included in the 2009 plan crossed areas in southeast Utah and through national parks, such as Arches National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Thomas said the regard for Utah’s iconic lands was not a priority under the Bush energy plan. She said little to no benefit would have come to Utahns as a result of energy corridor development. The Times-Independent