Friday, May 09, 2008

Congress moves will support major coal interests, not renewables

On April 15, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources & Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands conducted an oversight hearing on state and community impacts from the West-Wide Energy Corridor Process. The process, mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, would designate energy corridors across large swaths of land throughout the U.S. At worst, this is an example of bureaucratic bungling that threatens some of our most pristine, ecologically important habitats and could waste millions of taxpayer dollars. At best, this process represents a missed opportunity to design a forward-looking policy to address our energy needs.

Here is some background on the West-wide corridors:

Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires the Departments of Energy, Interior and multiple other federal agencies to designate West-wide energy transmission corridors for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines as well as electric transmission facilities. The federal government responded by issuing a draft environmental impact statement in November 2007 that proposed corridors on public lands within the 11 states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and California. Once designated, the corridors (averaging 3,500-feet wide but ranging up to 5 miles in width) will cover 6,000 miles and almost 3 million acres of public lands. As proposed, the designations will damage wildlife habitat, cultural resources, recreation opportunities, and many other resources on federal lands across the West. The impacted areas include such renowned places as the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona/California border, New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, and Utah's Grand Staircase National Monument and Arches National Park.

The corridors process also shortchanges the commitment of Western states to producing renewable energy. Not only would the proposed West-wide energy corridors slice through high-value public lands, they would hard-wire a coal economy onto the 21st century West. The proposed energy corridors show the administration's multi-billion dollar grid to be little more than a network connecting existing and proposed coal-fired power plants that bypass many areas rich in renewable energy potential. If the federal government is going to invest millions in solving the energy transmission bottleneck, it only makes sense that it does it in a manner that moves us toward efficient use of clean energy sources.

At the hearing, Rep. RaĂșl Grijalva (D-AZ) said, "The current map looks like a giant extension cord to existing coal sources. Transmission is key to the development and sustainability of renewable energy. If that wasn't taken into account, that's a huge step backward.”

Designating corridors to meet our needs to transport energy across the nation can be part of a common sense approach to meeting the need for energy, but it is only one part – in conjunction with considering how we conserve energy and decrease our reliance on fossil fuels. It is vital that these corridors are located only in appropriate places, and that their construction and use are also carefully determined with true consideration of their likely effects on the surrounding areas. Thoughtful planning is the best way to protect people and the rest of the natural environment.

The designation of energy corridors across the West simply cannot be permitted to proceed unless and until these serious concerns are addressed. The agencies need to generate a new proposal and conduct real consultation with all interested parties, fully disclosing what the corridors will do to all the affected lands, and including alternatives that avoid or minimize impacts to sensitive resources and prioritize improved efficiency, distributed generation, and renewables. Such an approach would ensure that this can be a meaningful and ultimately useful process.

To learn more about the West-wide Energy Corridor designation process, please visit http://corridoreis.anl.gov/

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