DENVER —The Bush administration’s Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy today issued a plan for energy corridors throughout the West, squandering an opportunity to move the United States toward a renewable energy based economy and opening iconic public wildlands to destructive development. The plan comes despite pleas for a new direction in energy development from Congress, state agencies, tribal governments and over 14,000 members of the public.
The agencies’ West-Wide Energy Corridors Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement outlines a plan for more than 6,000 miles of corridors, encompassing nearly 3 million acres in 11 states, on public lands slated to accommodate high-capacity electric transmission lines and oil and natural gas pipelines.
The final energy corridor plan contains some important improvements for public lands protections— imposing protective management conditions, moving certain objectionable corridors and clarifying that pipelines cannot be sited without environmental review—but crucial commitments to a clean energy future are not made. Iconic places such as New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Arches National Park, and other protected areas throughout the West stand to be directly impaired by massive oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission lines that will slice through them or skirt their borders.
The agencies were required to identify energy corridors on public lands under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Testimony at a Congressional oversight hearing and comments on the draft plan by hundreds of attendees at public meetings, as well as thousands of written comments, provided a blueprint for smart, environmentally sensitive energy corridors that would support renewable energy. Instead, the agency designated a corridor network which fails to provide adequate protections for public lands and locks in transmission to polluting coal-fired power plants.
“New Mexico and other Western states are working hard to bring clean, renewable energy online, but the proposed corridors fail to access our best wind and solar resources,” said Joanna Prukop, secretary for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. “We specifically identified needed corridors to support New Mexico’s renewable resources. They ignored us.”
Most of the corridors will average 3,500-feet in width (ranging up to five miles) and can accommodate up to nine 500-kV electric transmission lines, 35 massive liquid petroleum pipelines and 29 natural gas pipelines. The agencies are also moving forward with plans to designate energy corridors in the other 38 states and Alaska.
The proposed plan establishes one energy corridor that would cut through Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and is only a stone’s throw from the spectacular Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. Another massive corridor would come within a few yards of Arches National Park’s boundary, while driving directly through the town of Moab. Citizen-proposed wilderness, Forest Service roadless areas and National Wildlife Refuges throughout the West are also impacted.
“These corridors, along with the Bush administration’s last-minute oil and gas leasing of land near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and the EPA proposal for reduction in air quality standards at these same parks, will irreparably harm the tremendous beauty of the red rock canyon country around Moab that attracts millions to southeast Utah each year,” said Phil Brueck, a member of the Executive Council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. “The government is making these decisions in the waning moments of their power with little thought to the wildlands they’ll ruin, the national parks and monuments they’ll damage, the expansive views they’ll degrade or the communities they’ll fracture. It also troubles me that because these decisions are happening so fast and are mired in so much bureaucracy, that the American public isn't even aware of the thieves stealing their crown jewels!"
The public is also not being given their usual right to file protests on the final version of this PEIS, even though as many as 165 local BLM and Forest Service land management plans will be amended to incorporate these corridors.
“We appreciate the improvements that have been made, but the plans can not be considered a success because they inadequately address renewable energy, cut out the public’s right to protest, and will turn national monuments and wildlife refuges into industrialized energy corridors,” said Nada Culver of the Wilderness Society. “These problems need to be fixed.”