November 24, 2008

Federal energy-corridor plan criticized

By Stephen Speckman
Deseret News

Critics last week flayed a new federal plan for about 6,000 miles of energy corridors on nearly 3 million acres in 11 states, saying the strategy fails to protect "treasured" public lands.

In the meantime, state lawmakers endorsed a proposed bill Wednesday that seeks to create a task force to focus on where to site utility transmission corridors in Utah. Rocky Mountain Power's manager of government affairs, Kevin Boardman, told members of the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee that his company would like to be part of the task force.

"I think going forward this is going to be a primary issue before the state," Boardman said. He referred to the "challenges" his company recently encountered when Box Elder County residents, citing health concerns, objected to a $4.1 billion, 90-mile corridor running through the county into Idaho.

The bill to create the task force will be considered during the 2009 legislative general session, which begins in January.

The Wilderness Society said in a statement Thursday that a newly proposed federal plan plots a corridor a "stone's throw away" from the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area. The group also pointed out that another corridor would cut through Moab and skirt within a few yards the boundary of Arches National Park.

Watchdogs also fear a corridor will be allowed to slice through Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The new corridors in Utah would be used for oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission lines.

The Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy were given some credit Thursday for moving certain "objectionable" corridors, imposing protective management conditions and clarifying that pipelines cannot be sited without an environmental review.

But the plans cannot be considered a success "because they inadequately address renewable energy, cut out the public's right to protest and will turn national monuments and wildlife refuges into industrialized energy corridors," said Wilderness Society senior counsel Nada Culver.