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Federal Agencies Release Western Energy Corridors Study

Nearly a decade after the proposal was first activated at the end of the Bush administration (see Daily GPI, Dec. 1, 2008), the Obama administration on Friday released a study of potential energy corridors across public lands throughout the West.

The corridor studywill be part of a series of regional reviews on the corridor designations.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) said the study will help in the assessment of the need for revisions and greater public input regarding designated areas that may be suitable for the siting of natural gas and electric transmission infrastructure.

Reviews will begin with priority corridors in Southern California, southern Nevada and western Arizona, the trio of federal agencies said.

The focus of the study is corridors created after the 2005 Energy Policy Act that were aimed at providing environmental protections while allowing energy rights-of-way over public lands. The aim is to "encourage more efficient and effective use of the corridors," according to the agencies. Baseline data has been established and future challenges and opportunities for consideration in upcoming BLM/USFS reviews have been identified

Eleven contiguous western states were specifically called out in the 2005 federal act by Congress for creating the corridors for both transmission and distribution systems, seeking to create "long-term, systematic planning for energy transport" throughout the West. A goal was to create a "coordinated and consistent interagency permitting process," along with pragmatic steps to avoid or minimize environmental harm.

The "programmatic environmental impact statement" was developed by BLM, USFS and DOE starting in 2006 and completed in 2009 on 6,000 miles of corridors. As a result, two records of decision and associated land use plan amendments were promulgated.

In 2012, the three federal agencies hammered out a settlement agreement that resolved lawsuits against the identified corridors, and outlined how the corridors would be reviewed on the regional basis. That agreement outlines the interagency process for conducting the reviews, the types of information/data to be considered, and incorporating recommendations in future BLM and USFS land use plans.

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