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Lawsuit Challenges Western Energy Corridor Plan

Declaring federally designated energy corridors in 11 western states "coal friendly" and in direct opposition to nine states' renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 14 environmental groups and San Miguel County, CO, last week filed a lawsuit challenging the Bush-era designations.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, aims to redirect new transmission lines so they can link solar, wind and geothermal facilities to consumers, the plaintiffs said. The alignment of the corridors as currently designated is based on the locations of existing coal and other fossil fuel plants, they said.

"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 San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes. "We hope the Obama administration will work with us to fix the flaws in this hasty, ill-conceived plan."

The lawsuit asks the court to declare decisions regarding the energy corridors in violation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) spokesman told NGI that BLM was reviewing the lawsuit and had no comment.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 called for the energy corridors to be designated on federal lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The proposed corridors would facilitate future siting of oil, natural gas and hydrogen pipelines, as well as electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal lands in the West, to meet the region's growing energy demands while mitigating potential harmful effects to the environment, according to a final programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) prepared by BLM and the Departments of Energy (DOE), Agriculture and Defense last year (see NGI, Dec. 1, 2008). The PEIS proposed to designate more than 6,000 miles of energy transport corridors on federal lands in 11 western states.

The corridors plan developed by the Bush administration ignored nine western states' plans to increase the use of wind, solar and other renewable energy, and threatens imperiled wildlife and brush against the borders of iconic public lands, the groups said in their lawsuit. In designating the corridors, BLM 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 as required under the Endangered Species Act, they said.

Plaintiffs in the case include Center for Biological Diversity, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Western Resource Advocates and Western Watersheds Project.

Last month the Western Governors' Association issued a policy resolution seeking a more comprehensive federal-state effort on renewable energy and transmission line development.

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