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Groups sue to stop Bush plan for Western energy corridors

Published July 8, 2009 7:01 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Bush administration plan to spread energy corridors across 11 Western states tilts toward coal-fired power at the expense of renewables such as solar and wind, a coalition of conservation groups and a Colorado county say.

In a lawsuit filed this week in federal court in San Francisco, the groups -- including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance -- allege agencies that mapped the 6,000 miles of energy-corridor rights of way failed to analyze renewable-source locations and numerous federal and local land-use plans.

The lawsuit names Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the heads of three federal land-management agencies.

The coalition filed the lawsuit essentially to get the Obama administration's attention, said Liz Thomas, a SUWA attorney in Moab, where a map shows a corridor three to six miles wide running past the entrances to Arches National Park and continuing through the narrow Moab Canyon to the south.

While the Bureau of Land Management changed the corridor plan to avoid some wilderness areas, Utah's maps were unchanged, Thomas said.

Fourteen of the corridors are in Utah, and would be anywhere from two-thirds of a mile to four miles wide. Each corridor could hold as many as nine electric transmission lines, 35 petroleum and 29 natural-gas pipelines.

Mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the overarching environmental impact study for the Western corridors has resulted in automatic amendments to federal documents known as resource-management plans.

Proposals for actual new pipeline projects, transmission lines or utility retrofits would be analyzed in separate environmental studies that would have to include public participation.

But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Tuesday hope to head off the plan before it gets going at all. They point to the Western Governors' Association's Western Renewable Energy Zone Initiative as a better alternative.

The federal agencies that collaborated on the EIS, including the BLM, Energy Department and Forest Service, said the corridor plan would allow improved supply and distribution of affordable energy, eliminate redundancy in environmental-compliance actions and allow for quicker approvals of large-scale energy projects.

An attempt Wednesday to reach a BLM representative in Salt Lake City was unsuccessful. A BLM spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press she could not comment on the litigation.

Maps show the corridors generally follow existing highways, electric transmission lines and pipelines that already cross federal land. But they omit details on roadless areas, wilderness study areas, designated species habitat, national parks and southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

See the maps

A coalition of conservation groups -- including the Sierra Club; Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society -- and Colorado's San Miguel County are suing to stop a Bush administration plan to establish energy corridors through 11 Western states: Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

Maps of the disputed corridors are available at http://corridoreis.anl.gov/" Target="_BLANK">http://corridoreis.anl.gov/