Nov 29, 2008

West-Wide Energy Corridor Will Affect Refuge System

Desert NWREarlier this week, the Gallup Independent reported on the release of the West-Wide Energy Corridor Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which analyzes the environmental impacts of opening more than 6,112 miles of energy corridors on federal lands in 11 western states.

According to the Independent:

Federal agencies involved in designating the proposed West-Wide Energy Corridor have scaled back the number of national wildlife refuge and wilderness area crossings contained in the 2007 draft, but total acreage has increased from 2.9 million to 3.3 million acres in the final version released Thursday…

The final document indicates the total corridor length increased by less than 60 miles, the number of national wildlife refuge crossings dropped from 12 to two, wilderness area crossings decreased from 27 to zero, and roadless areas from 17 to five. The overall 12 percent increase in corridor area is due largely to an increase in the width of some corridor segments…

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, crafted largely by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, directs the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Interior to designate corridors in the 11 states for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines, and electricity transmission and distribution facilities.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on November 27 that one of the national wildlife refuges impacted is the Desert NWR, which encompasses 1.6 million acres of the diverse Mojave Desert in southern Nevada and is the largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states.

From the Review-Journal:

Part of one corridor runs for about 25 miles along the southeastern edge of the 1.6 million acre Desert National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas. Nature advocates at public hearings in Southern Nevada earlier this year urged federal officials to delete the corridor.

But it could not be done, according to a final environmental impact statement issued by the departments of Energy, Interior, Agriculture and Defense. The agencies collaborated after Congress set direction for them in a law enacted three years ago.

The route intersecting the Nevada refuge “was retained because of there being no other viable option for relocating the corridor,” the report states. It added that the agencies would seek approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that manages the haven for desert shrubs, bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise…

The Bush administration’s work to designate energy corridors “has ruffled a lot of feathers in the environmental community out West,” said John Tull, conservation director of the Nevada Wilderness Project.

The maps favor coal, oil and gas, and “look like another handout for traditional energy sources,” Tull said. “It doesn’t have the foresight for a renewable energy plan.”

Lawsuits are expected, and they could slow any immediate efforts to develop in the energy corridor. In addition, implementation of the designations could be altered by the Obama administration or Congress, using methods such as funding restrictions, department or agency directives as to how the designations will be implemented, or actions to “fix” the designations prior to approving actual development.

To learn more about the West-Wide Energy Corridor, visit the West-Wide Energy Corridor Programmatic EIS Information Center.

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