Suit Challenges Southwest Energy Corridor
On January 10, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Energy’s October 2007 designation of the Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor for failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the corridor. The transmission corridor encompasses millions of acres of protected federal and state lands in California and Arizona, including 3 million acres of national parks and national wildlife refuges; the 21-million-acre California Desert Conservation Area; and 750,000 acres of national monuments. In total, nearly 7.5 million acres of federally designated wilderness areas and as many as 95 threatened or endangered species lie within the energy corridor.
“The Energy Department cannot turn southern California and western Arizona into an energy farm for Los Angeles and San Diego without taking a hard look at the environmental impacts of doing so,” said Amy Atwood, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Southwest Energy Corridor will have far-reaching environmental impacts that must be considered before moving forward.”
Suit filed over federal agency plan for southwest energy corridor
LOS ANGELES -- The idea behind an energy corridor through vast parts of Arizona and California was to keep electricity flowing in the region, a Department of Energy spokeswoman said.
An environmental group challenged the plan Thursday in a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit names the Energy Department and Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman as defendants.
The Center for Biological Diversity claims that the plan's fast-track federal approval process for the construction of transmission lines would allow energy companies to bypass state jurisdiction, environmental laws and even private land ownership. The lawsuit accused the energy agency of violating the National Environmental Policy because it failed to analyze environmental impacts of the corridor.
Energy spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero could not comment directly on the litigation, but in an e-mailed statement Friday said the designation "itself has no environmental impact."
"These National Corridors serve as an important indication by the federal government that significant transmission constraint or congestion problems exist," she said. "The goal is simple to keep reliable supplies of electric energy flowing to all Americans."
In October, the federal government designated two corridors - the southwest path and one in the mid-Atlantic region. While the purpose was to ease rules for new power lines where they're most needed, critics said the designation would also give power companies blanket approval.
"There are some loopholes in this designation that are really problematic," said Megan Anderson, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who worked on the lawsuit.
The 70,000-square-mile southwest corridor includes seven counties in Southern California and three counties in southwestern Arizona. It crosses several national parks including Joshua Tree, as well as national monuments such as the Carrizo Plain and the Sonoran Desert. The area contains at least 95 threatened and endangered species.
"The Energy Department cannot turn Southern California and western Arizona into an energy farm for Los Angeles and San Diego without taking a hard look at the environmental impacts of doing so," said Amy Atwood, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The mid-Atlantic energy corridor has galvanized opponents for similar reasons.
Eleven regional and national environmental organizations are preparing to challenge the mid-Atlantic designation in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Jan. 14. The group is led by the National Wildlife Federation and the Piedmont Environmental Council.
The mid-Atlantic corridor includes parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Within the area are state and national parks, refuges and recreation areas such as the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Shenandoah National Park and the Upper Delaware Scenic and National Recreation River.
"We believe the corridors are being rushed through to accommodate coal-fired power plants before a new administration takes action on global warming, which would make it considerably more difficult," said Glen Besa, Appalachian Regional Director for the Sierra Club, which is a party to the litigation.