Energy corridors proposed across public lands in West


Edition Date: 11/17/07

The Bush administration is proposing more than 6,000 miles of "energy corridors" for future pipelines and transmission lines in Idaho and 10 other Western states, crossing dozens of sensitive areas including national monuments, recreation areas and scenic rivers.

Officials say the 3,500-foot-wide corridors are needed to keep pace with the electricity demands of a growing population and the increasing oil and gas production.

"That's where a significant amount of our industrial and consumer growth is going to happen in the United States - in the West and Southwest," said Department of Energy spokesman Jonathan Shradar. "Demand for electricity will increase, and on the federal lands these corridors will be sufficient to meet that demand."

The plan, developed over two years, would affect federal lands - mostly those owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

In Idaho, primary corridors would run roughly east to west in the Snake River valley, north to south in Eastern Idaho, and east to west across the Panhandle. Two sets of smaller corridor segments cross parts of the Magic Valley from north to south, merging into one before entering Nevada.

The government says the corridors mostly avoid major sensitive areas like wilderness areas, national parks, tribal lands, national monuments and national recreation areas, except where transmission lines, highways, pipelines and other rights-of-way already exist.

But environmental groups say the plan would allow industrial projects to be carved through some of the most scenic open lands in the country. That includes proposed routes through portions of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, the foothills of the Organ Mountains in New Mexico and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Wyoming.

"On a map these look like clean, sterile lines going from point A to point B," said Liz Thomas with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "You get on the ground, it's not like that. There are canyons in the way, rivers, pueblo sites, national parks, national monuments, people's favorite hiking and hunting areas."

Critics also say the plan does not account for an emerging shift in the nation's energy policy - away from conventional fossil fuels and toward renewables. They say this could change where power lines are needed.

Environmental groups say the draft plan is an improvement over prior versions. In the latest draft, for example, the number of national parks, monuments and recreation areas crossed dropped from 29 to 12. The number of national wildlife refuge crossings dropped from 15 to 3.

Demand for electricity in the West is projected to increase by about 20 percent over the next decade, according to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council. On the supply side, booming oil and gas production in places like Wyoming has outpaced pipeline construction. That has caused bottlenecks that the government blames for fluctuations in natural gas prices.

The Idaho Statesman contributed to this report.

Public Comment Meetings - PLEASE TRY TO ATTEND. This just mentions Boise but they have to be doing these meetings in all the corridor states.

A 90-day public comment period began Friday. Public meetings on the proposed plan begin January 8, with meetings scheduled throughout the West. One is scheduled in Boise on Jan. 31, though no time or place has been announced yet. After the end of a 90-day public comment period on Feb. 14, the agencies involved plan to adopt a final plan by the fall of 2008.


West-wide Energy Corridor Programmatic EIS Information Center