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Wyoming Panel Sees Conflict: Federal Rules vs. Energy Development

Even with the Department of Interior's (DOI) recent decision not to implement a so-called "wild lands" order (see Daily GPI, June 2), wilderness characteristics will continue to be considered in assessing proposed energy infrastructure projects across Wyoming and other western states, an environmental panel concluded at a meeting of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA) board Wednesday.

The panel addressed DOI's proposed changes in federal wildlife protection rules covering permitting, siting and operation of renewable and transmission projects. The emphasis was on power sector projects, but natural gas infrastructure could also be impacted. The panelists somewhat ironically said the new rules could hinder efforts in both federal and state governments to streamline energy permitting processes.

Even with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rescinding the wild lands proposal, the federal department that includes the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has indicated it will continue to consider wilderness characteristics when conducting land-use planning for energy projects, panelists said. One panelist accused the federal agencies involved in protecting wildlife of not knowing the issues.

Richard Harness, a certified wildlife biologist from EDM International Inc., suggested that education upfront was needed to overcome the fact that not all agencies or their representatives fully understand the issues. "You can facilitate quicker review by spending more time up front, developing clear, complete project information to share with busy agency staff," Harness said.

The consensus among the panelists was that energy project developers need to play a role in encouraging more state and federal coordination to streamline permitting schedules, WIA Executive Director Loyd Drain said.

"A defensible and multi-disciplinary planning approach that integrates agency and public/stakeholder involvement is key, allowing engagement with appropriate federal, state and local agency staff as early as possible," said another panelist, Randy Palmer, COO of Environmental Planning Group.

And in any event, prepare for the unexpected was the caution offered by Steve Negri, a Tetra Tech Inc. project manager. "Everyone should be prepared for an uncertain planning environment."

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