Breaking News: Landmark Settlement Benefits Utah, Requires Federal Agencies to Revisit Coal-biased Energy Corridors Across the West

Moab, UT.—A coalition of conservation organizations reached a landmark settlement agreement today with federal agencies requiring the government to revise a Bush-era plan that created energy corridors – which promoted coal and other fossil fuel power plants – on public lands across the West.  Utah’s iconic landscapes including Arches National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, will benefit from this settlement that requires the government to avoid damage to wildlife habitat, national parks and other environmentally sensitive lands while also facilitating renewable energy transmission.

Goldbar Rim, proposed for wilderness in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act and directly across the road from Arches National Park, could get a reprieve from unsightly energy corridor. Photo credit: Neal Clark, SUWA.

This settlement is especially relevant to Utah, which is located in the crosshairs between coal-fired power plants to the north and the ultimate energy consumers to the west and south.  “Utah was slated to have numerous corridors criss-crossing the state – adjacent to Arches National Park, in wildlands near Moab, and within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – with few, if any, benefits to Utahns.  This settlement will help position these corridors to minimize effects to wildlife, recreationists, parks, wildlands and other scenic areas,” noted Liz Thomas, field attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The agreement requires federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Department of Energy, to revise the West-wide Energy Corridors Plan in accordance with certain siting principles.  These principles include locating the corridors on appropriate landscapes, facilitating renewable energy projects where feasible, avoiding environmentally sensitive areas and preventing a spider-web of pipelines and powerlines across the west.

The West-wide Energy Corridors were developed by the Bush Administration according to a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to streamline environmental reviews for siting of transmission lines and pipelines on public lands.  The Bush plan, which was announced in November 2008, facilitated access to coal-fired and other fossil-fuel power plants but did not focus on connecting areas high in solar, wind, and geothermal energy to the electric grid.

The agreement, which now awaits court approval, establishes a process for the agencies to periodically review the corridors and assess whether to revise, delete, or add corridors on a region-by-region basis.  The Bureau and the Forest Service, which have regulatory authority over rights-of-way for transmission lines and pipelines on public lands, must also reevaluate corridors located in highly-sensitive areas or corridors which would not facilitate renewable energy development.

“This settlement puts federal agencies and potential developers on notice that certain corridors are no-go areas for environmental reasons,” said Nada Culver, senior director of agency policy and planning at The Wilderness Society.  “We should guide powerlines and pipelines to the right places, along with advancing better priorities such as supporting renewable energy.”

The agreement further specifies that corridor analysis will be conducted by an interagency workgroup and in consideration of studies by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council and Western Governors’ Association, and expertise provided by the Energy Department, with public feedback to ensure that corridors are thoughtfully sited to provide maximum utility with minimum environmental impact.

“The stunning views from Arches National Park, with its magnificent Delicate Arch that adorns Utah license plates, and a plethora of other impressive sandstone arches, will be better protected from the unsightly scars of transmission lines and pipelines running adjacent to the park,” commented Dave Nimkin, Southwest Regional Office Director, National Parks Conservation Association.  “We will provide site-specific input for corridor locations in order to preserve national park values treasured by millions of Americans.”