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Conservation Groups Sue to Block Electric Transmission Corridors

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2008 (ENS) – Eleven regional and national environmental organizations today announced plans to file suit against the Department of Energy over its final designation of a mid-Atlantic National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor.

On October 5, the Energy Department published its order designating two National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors – the Mid-Atlantic Corridor, and the Southwest Corridor.

Led by the National Wildlife Federation and the Piedmont Environmental Council, the groups are challenging the designation on grounds that the Energy Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act by failing to study the potential harmful impacts of the corridor on air quality, wildlife, habitat and other natural resources.

“The Department of Energy has ignored the public interest in favor of the private interests of power companies,” said Randy Sargent Neppl, wildlife counsel at the National Wildlife Federation. “Our federal government should be working to find solutions that protect our natural heritage and promote a clean energy future so that our children and grandchildren will have healthy communities, clean air and abundant wildlife and wild places to enjoy.”

“The Department of Energy has failed to do even the basic due diligence and analyze responsible and cost effective alternative ways of meeting the region’s energy needs,” said Christopher Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

“Efficiency and conservation should be the first order of business. Reducing both peak and base load demand through energy efficiency, conservation and expanding demand response programs should be a priority,” he said. “The mid-Atlantic corridor designation puts an enormous area of the region at risk while sending our energy policy a major step backwards towards continued reliance on coal-fired generation.”


High voltage transmission lines
near Rochester, New York (Photo
credit unknown)

The groups plan to file suit on Monday, January 14 in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The Center for Biological Diversity today is filing a similar lawsuit in the Central District of California challenging the Energy Department’s designation of the Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor, which includes counties in California and Arizona.

Joining the lawsuit are Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Environmental Advocates of New York, Clean Air Council, Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, Civil War Preservation Trust, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Brandywine Conservancy and Natural Lands Trust.

In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which directed the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, to designate large geographic areas as National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors.

This designation gives power companies blanket approval to build new high-voltage interstate transmission lines within the corridor, even on environmentally sensitive and protected lands. The designation also allows power companies to bypass local, state and federal environmental laws.

The groups’ lawsuit claims that the Energy Department has overstepped what Congress called for in the Energy Policy Act and designated lands that lie outside of the identified congestion area.

The groups are asking the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to compel the Energy Department to perform an environmental impact statement on the corridor and consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over impacts to endangered species as required by law.

Because the current designation would rely on some of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants to service the region’s power demands, the groups are asking that the Energy Department consider more environmentally friendly alternatives.

“Unfortunately, rather than take this opportunity to promote renewable energy sources and encourage energy efficient solutions, the Department of Energy has put forth a plan that favors dirty coal and undermines regional efforts to combat global warming,” said Glen Besa, regional field director of the Sierra Club.

“The lack of environmental scrutiny given to proposed high-voltage transmission lines under this plan is alarming,” he said. “The DOE has not even a made a token effort to study the region-wide impact of this corridor on wildlife, forests or water.”

The ambiguous definition of “corridor” has allowed the Energy Department to designate more than 116,000 square miles in the mid-Atlantic, including parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic corridor designation affects over 49 million Americans.


Gettysburgh National Military
Park (Photo courtesy
National Park Service)

Within the area are dozens of state and national parks, refuges and recreation areas, including the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Shenandoah National Park and the Upper Delaware Scenic and National Recreation River.

“The National Park Service is mandated to ‘conserve the scenery’ of our national parks. Adding new power lines near or through national park sites could severely compromise our national heritage,” said Bryan Faehner of the National Parks Conservation Association. “It is simply inappropriate for energy corridors to be built within the geographic boundaries of, or even within view of national parks such as Gettysburg.”

In November, the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia petitioned the federal government to reconsider designating dozens of their counties for the siting of the high-speed electricity transmission corridor.

Also filing a petition with the department for a rehearing on the designation of the transmission corridors in the Southwest and mid-Atlantic were 20 environmental and conservation groups.

The states and groups say the Department of Energy disregarded key energy issues, failed to consult with the states and failed to adequately assess environmental impacts of the transmission corridors.

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