Feds Take First Crack at Western Transmission Corridors

By Published On: June 16, 2006

The federal government released a map for public comment June 9 that outlines proposed “energy corridors” across federal lands in 11 Western states. Once the routes are final, energy companies will be able to build power transmission lines and oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines through the corridors under an expedited review process. “The great majority are existing routes,” said Tom Welch, Department of Energy spokesperson. He explained that the federal government is mainly designating existing transmission lines and pipeline routes as federal energy corridors. The major change, he said, is that the existing rights-of-way will be widened to 3,500 feet to enable easier construction of additional transmission facilities and pipelines. “This is a preliminary part of the process that preserves California’s environmental and energy priorities,” said Joe Desmond, California Resources Agency undersecretary for energy affairs. “Electricity reliability is a huge concern for the people of California, but so is protecting the state’s wild lands and open space.” Despite the state’s role in the energy corridor process, the California League of Women Voters remains concerned that the federal government may preempt the authority of states in siting transmission lines and pipelines, said Jane Turnbull, the league’s energy chair. None of the proposed routes would pass through any national parks or monuments, according to Scott Powers, Bureau of Land Management project manager for the federal energy corridor program. The federal agencies will know in a couple of weeks which of the proposed corridors would provide routes for wholly new facilities. At least 90 percent already have existing energy lines, he said. Congress ordered four federal agencies – the Departments of Energy, Interior, Agriculture, and Defense – to designate federal energy corridors in the West when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Following enactment of the law, the agencies held public scoping meetings late last year. At that time, energy companies requested a dizzying array of routes for both existing and potential future lines. Subsequently, the California Energy Commission highlighted the plans in a series of public meetings across the state earlier this year (Circuit, Feb. 24, 2006). The CEC meetings unleashed a furor of concern on the part of environmental groups about the potential that energy corridors would crisscross pristine wilderness areas and scenic national parks and monuments across the West (Circuit, May 27, 2006). However, the map showing the agencies’ first formal proposed corridors is dramatically slimmed down. Welch said that the agencies decided to stick largely with existing routes in response to public comment made during the scoping sessions. The Sierra Club had no comment because it has not yet studied the map of corridors, said Jim Metropulos, club legislative representative. After receiving public comments on the proposed corridor designations by July 10, the agencies will prepare a draft programmatic environmental impact statement. They are supposed to complete the energy corridor designation process by August 2007.

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