Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Just What Is the West-Wide Energy Corridor?

Professor Eric T. Karlstrom

… Our federal energy policy is really a large trough arranged by the hogs for their convenience.

Amory Lovins, Colorado energy expert, Mother Jones, 2008

We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.

President George W. Bush, 2002

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 Mandates New Energy Corridors

Energy, including electrical energy, is essential for civilization as we know it. Today, America gets some 54% of its electricity from coal power plants and another 22% from natural gas power plants. With the possible exceptions of the production and distribution of food and water, no human activity has a greater impact upon the environment, the economy, and the way we live than how we produce and distribute energy.

Electrical blackouts rolled through California in 2001 and swept from Ohio to Canada and New York City in 2003. These blackouts are mainly attributable to deregulation policies sponsored, for the most part, by Republican politicians for the benefit of the energy industry. The blackouts, in turn, were used by the Bush administration as justification for an energy bill which mandates that a consortium of federal agencies, in partnership with “stake holders” (like energy companies), designate a national network of energy corridors to solve this (created?) “problem.” The resulting Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed when a re-elected President Bush claimed a “mandate” and Republicans controlled Congress. In addition to promoting the interests of the coal industry and investor-owned utilities over those of locally-generated energy and publicly-owned-utilities, this bill threatens private property rights, States’ rights, and millions of acres of already-protected federal and state land. Pepper Trail characterizes the new energy bill as essentially a “grab bag of tax breaks and incentives to various sectors of the energy industry that failed to raise vehicle mileage standards or take any other meaningful steps to reduce energy demand.”

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates two new types of energy corridors: Section 368 instructs the Secretaries of Energy, Interior, Agriculture, and Defense to work with stakeholders (including energy companies) to designate two-thirds-mile-wide energy corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines, electricity transmission lines, and other energy infrastructure on public lands. Each corridor could hold as many as nine electric transmission lines and 35 petroleum and 29 natural gas pipelines. The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the West-Wide Energy Corridor indicates that this “corridor” would extend 6000 miles across eleven Western states and cover 3 million acres of federal land.

Section 1221 of the energy bill requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to identify areas of electricity congestion and permits DOE to designate National Interest Electricity Transmission Corridors (NEITCs) in order to resolve problems of electricity congestion. The bill also gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority to override state siting-authorities that might turn down or fail to approve an energy company’s proposed electricity transmission line within a year. Companies are permitted to use the government’s eminent domain authority to condemn private land to ensure new transmission lines are built or existing lines are expanded. In practice, DOE’s mandate to designate NIET corridors has been interpreted by DOE as giving them the power to designate whole regions of the country- even entire States- as energy “corridors,” though these bear little or no resemblance to “corridors”

On October 5, 2007, DOE designated two NIET corridors in the country’s two most populous areas, purportedly in response to analyses that show consistent congestion in these regions. The Mid-Atlantic Energy Corridor would encompass 116,000 square miles (over 74 million acres) that include the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City metropolitan areas, huge portions of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia and all of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Some 49 million Americans live within the affected area. DOE also designated the Southwestern Energy Corridor that encompasses the Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix metropolitan areas as well as large portions of southern California, Nevada, Arizona. This “corridor” would include 70,000 square miles (44.8 million acres) in seven counties in southern California and three counties in southwestern Arizona.

Many interested parties, including several state governors, requested DOE reconsider its designation order. Virginia’s Governor Timothy M. Kaine and Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell asserted:

… the Designation Order is contrary to law, in excess of DOE’s statutory authority, and fails to observe procedure required by law. Specifically, DOE failed to consult with Virginia in conduct of the congestion study that served as the basis for its NEITC designations, in contravention of its explicit legal obligation to do so. Therefore, DOE’s designation of the Mid-Atlantic Area NIETC is unlawful.

On March 11, 2008, in response to many similar petitions, DOE issued an Order to Deny Rehearing. Dave Hamilton, of the Sierra Club, put it succinctly: “This is all about an end run around local input, local control and local authority.”

The West-Wide Energy Corridor

What’s 3,500 feet wide, 6,055 miles long and 29 million acres big? That’s wider than Hoover Dam, bigger than Yellowstone National Park and almost three times as long as the Mississippi River? This behemoth goes by the name of the West-Wide Energy Corridor, and if you live in the West it could soon devour a landscape near you.

Arising out of the political context of 2005, the Energy Policy Act did not entertain the possibility that energy use could actually be reduced through conservation, and it gave little consideration to local power generation by wind farms or solar arrays, for example, that would not require massive, long-distance energy corridors. In other words, the West-Wide Energy Corridor was never a prudent attempt to plan for the future: it simply takes a failed energy distribution model and makes it bigger.

So far, what appears to be a land grab has received little media attention.

Pepper Trail, “An Energy Octopus Wants to Eat the West,” 2008

The West-Wide Energy Corridor designates 6000 miles of 2/3 mile-wide corridors that would cover about 3 million acres of federal land in 11 states, including Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington (Figure 1).

Figure 1. West-Wide Energy corridor proposed in 2007 draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Note that a 2/3-mile-wide corridor would be the equivalent of nearly 12 football fields placed end to end! In November, 2007, a 1,000+ page “West-Wide” draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and thirteen cooperating agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), US. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the State of Wyoming. The document does not specify how DOE intends to extend the transmission corridors across State and private land. And it does not include project-specific activities at this time.

The West-Wide DEIS, dated October, 2007, was not published in the Federal Register until mid-November, at which point DOE initiated a 90-day public comment period. Because there was very little press coverage, many individuals, groups, counties, Indian tribes and even states were effectively shut out of the decision-making process. In “Energy Corridor Will Forever Alter Landscape of the West,” Grace Herndon reports that officials in San Miguel County, Colorado were not alerted to this plan until late 2007. She observes:

Now, apparently, it’s so critical to get this thing nailed down, that the plan is being fast-tracked… A path averaging 3,500 feet wide, taking up 6,000 miles and almost 3 million acres of public land alone-- for what national purpose? The trouble is that local and regional organizations are still struggling to grasp the outlines of this sweeping land use proposal, which not only affects federal lands but the privately-owned land-- the ranches and farms and the communities-- which lie between those federal holdings.

Art Goodtimes, San Miguel County Commissioner, stated: “There has not been meaningful consultation with the states or the tribes about this process, and I’m here to tell you that there has not been meaningful consultation with counties either.” Of 159 counties affected by this process, only three had been granted cooperative status. “We need a comprehensive energy plan in this country but we need more time to do this right.”

Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society explains: “The corridor locations were created from an original “wish list” proposed by industry and bisect many important and sensitive places, including places that are designated conservation areas and would be expected to be protected from such intrusions.” The Wilderness Society’s analysis indicates that the proposed corridors threaten six national wildlife refuges, three national parks, seven national monuments and more than 60 current and proposed wilderness areas. Among the impacted special areas are the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona/California border, Joshua Tree National Park, California, Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah, New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and Arches National Park, Utah.

In “An Energy Octopus Wants to Eat the West,” Pepper Trail notes that the DEIS maps show that the West-wide Energy Corridor would create:

…a network of cracks spreading across the West, from Puget Sound to El Paso, and from San Diego to the Little Bighorn. On these maps, our beloved West looks like a shattered and poorly mended dinner plate. And that is an entirely accurate image.

These new energy corridors – averaging six-tenths of a mile wide – will fracture a landscape that is already a maze of hairline cracks – the lines made by highways, railroads and the current, comparatively delicate energy rights-of-ways. These existing corridors have been enough to severely fragment habitat in the West, interfering with the movements of pronghorn, elk and bison, denying undisturbed wild areas to wolves and grizzly bears, and weakening the ecological health of deserts, grasslands and forest.

The West-Wide Energy Corridor, if enacted, would be the death sentence for many wildlife populations… One tentacle would split the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming; another would run the length of California’s Owens Valley between Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks; another would cut from Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to Bandolier National Monument near Sante Fe. You have to wonder why the government didn’t simply use the existing system of energy corridors and rights-of-way. (http://www.redding.com/news/2008/jan/288/energy-octopus-wants-eat-west/)

Local citizens’ and environmental groups across the West are now fiercely opposing the West-Wide Energy Corridor. Judith Lewis states:

“The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is fighting a transmission corridor that will plow a route along Utah’s Moab Rim. In Oregon, conservation groups oppose a proposed gas line that would bore under rivers in the Mount Hood National Forest. According to a map of the proposed transmission routes issued by the Dept. of Energy, the state of Nevada could be divided up like a quilt to transport energy straight through the Desert national Wildlife Complex. “No opening of any wilderness areas in this state to any energy corridors ever,” Bill Huggins of Friends of the Nevada Wilderness told the Department. of Energy at a public meeting in Las Vegas. “Absolutely not.” (from “Walking on a Wire” http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=17749 ).

The Colorado portion of the DEIS maps show two main corridors. One runs east-west along Highway 50 from Grand Junction through Salida to just east of Pueblo, where it mysteriously stops. And a north-south corridor traverses western Colorado from Mesa Verde National Park in the south to near the northwestern corner of the state. Higher resolution maps reveal large gaps in the designated corridors where they cross state and private land (http://corridoreis.anl.gov/documents/dpeis/maps/Draft_Westwide_Corridors_Nov2007_Poster.pdf). DOE, however, is not providing information regarding the likely locations of these connections to the public. Pepper Trail notes:

Then there’s the contentious issue of property rights. On the maps, the lines representing the corridors are frequently interrupted, only to pick up again after a gap. Those gaps are private land; the map shows only the rights-of-way proposed for federal land. Obviously, those gaps must be filled in, and if you happen to be a landowner in the way, watch out!

Critics note that a fundamental problem with the “West-Wide Energy Corridor” DEIS is that it includes only one alternative- and this plan essentially calls for linking existing polluting coal power plants throughout the West. In this regard, DOE is in non-compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that federal agencies “rigorously explore” and “evaluate all reasonable alternatives.” Western Resource Advocates asserts that DOE has not, but should, also consider these alternatives: 1) Reduce demand in population centers by increasing energy efficiency and the use of local power sources, 2) Focus the corridors on linking clean and renewable sources to the power grid, and 3) Maximize the use of existing power lines and substations through technology upgrades before designating new corridors. Tom Darin, energy transmission specialist for Western Resources Advocates, concludes: “Newly designated corridors must be ones that are needed, otherwise we will be unnecessarily carving up Western lands.”

Nada Culver of the Wilderness Society agrees, noting:

The Energy Department needs to seriously evaluate alternatives to minimize the number of corridors and maximize the use of renewable energy, and it should include requirements to presumptively limit all projects to designated corridors. The Energy Department has this one chance to get these corridors right and to improve access to renewable energies, such as wind and solar. With appropriate planning, they could address our transmission needs while also avoiding sensitive protected lands.

Incredibly, the draft EIS concludes that the corridors would not have environmental impacts. Nada Culver, states:

…. The proposed corridors still lack thorough consideration of the likely damage to federal lands and other places. The designations still don’t provide justification for the siting of corridors or information on the location and sources of energy to be moved through the corridors. The corridors can draw damaging development to areas where there might have only been a power line before. There are no exceptions for places already identified for protection, such as wilderness, wildlife refuges, parks and historical sites. This process will amend more than 160 land-use plans and permit projects with lesser reviews.

Also, the corridor designations would not preclude companies from proposing corridors and projects outside the corridors. Greg Trainor, utility and street systems director for the city of Grand Junction, Colorado, stated:

We are concerned generally with the broad swaths of land under the proposed action alternative and with the statement that, should applicants wish to apply for lands outside of the corridor, they may do so. That, combined with the “no effect” meaning… raises the question of the purpose of the corridor designation in the first place.

Comparison with the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC)

Just what are these new proposed corridors and who would benefit from them? It is a fair comparison to point out that the proposed West-Wide corridors are almost three times wider than the proposed 1200’-wide Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), which part of the “NAFTA superhighway” that would extend from southern Mexico to Canada. NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S, Canada, and Mexico that was passed via “fast-track” in 1994. The North America Super Corridor Coalition, Inc. (NASCO) website shows the NAFTA superhighway extending from Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico to Kansas City, and into Canada, where it branches out to Vancouver on the west coast and Montreal in the east (Figure 2).

Just What Is the West-Wide Energy Corridor?

Figure 2. Artist’s conception of the “NAFTA Superhighway.”

In The Late Great U.S.A.: The Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada, Jerome R. Coris notes that the 4000-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the TTC reveals that the 1200’-wide complex involves 10 lanes of highway, with five lanes in each direction, of which 3 lanes are for passenger vehicles and 2 lanes are for trucks. The EIS also includes 6 rail lines running parallel to the highways, with separate rail lines in each direction for high-speed rail, commuter rail, and freight rail. The design also calls for a 200’-wide utility corridor that includes pipelines for oil, natural gas, and water, cables for telecommunications and data, and electricity towers (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Texas Department of Transportation drawing of proposed TTC.

Certainly, if all these transportation and energy facilities can be contained within 1200,’ one must question the need for 3500’-wide corridors. Like the West-Wide corridors, the TTC is designed to be an alternate to the existing interstate system. Indeed, it is to be a separate toll-road, constructed and maintained for profit by a Spanish corporation, that abandons the existing interstate structure without attempting to supplement it. According to Corsi, the TTC is apparently the beginning of a continental network designed to move inter-modal goods that derive from global trade.

Whereas the West-Wide energy corridor would carve up 11 Western states with some 6000 miles of 3500’-wide corridors, the TTC calls for building 4000 miles of highway/railway/utility superhighways in Texas over next 50 years at a cost of $184 billion. The 4000 miles of TTC criss-cross Texas and circle every major city, including San Antonio, Austin, Houson, and Dallas-Fort Worth (Figure 4).

Figure 4. 4000 miles of projected TTC in Texas.

Like the West-Wide corridors, the TTC will cut communities in half; people will have to drive tens of miles to get to the nearest overpass to see a neighbor or get to the other side of their ranches. And like the West-Wide energy corridor, the TTC will involve wholesale confiscation of Americans’ private property. According to Corsi, it will involve about one million eminent domain notices and will destroy some 584,000 acres of what is now farm and ranchland. These farms and ranches have produced food for America for generations. In Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London (545 U.S. 469 (2005), the Supreme Court decided that eminent domain could be used to seize private property from U.S. citizens even though the purpose of the land seizure was to benefit a private corporation. The decision says nothing that specifies that the corporation need be a U.S. corporation. In addition, a Texas state law (HB3588) allows a “quick-take seizure” of private property “if TxDOT (Texas Dept. of Transportation) and the property owner cannot reach an agreement” on just compensation for the land involved. Under current Texas state law, TxDOT can seize a property on the 91st day after the landowner is served with an official notice of quick take.

Similarly, according to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, after DOE designates a NIETC, when utilities propose transmission lines and state regulatory agencies either reject them or put off action for over a year, the utilities can ask the federal government to step in and review those projects. Thus, for example, San Diego Gas and Electric, a private corporation, could ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for eminent domain authority to condemn and seize the private lands needed for the project.

Finally and most importantly, the new energy corridors and the TTC have both been ushered into law in an extremely anti-democratic manner, through stealth and secrecy, and in violation of many existing State, local and federal laws. Both projects seem to have emerged from essentially Soviet-style central planning with no meaningful democratic participation from ordinary citizens or even from Congress. Both projects are direct attacks on private property, State’s rights, and the U.S. Constitution. As such, these projects seem to be intended to hand over vast portions of America to the individuals who control a handful of multi-national corporations. Jerome Corsi makes a compelling case that the TTC is part of an incremental corporate plan to merge the U.S. with Canada and Mexico in a North American Union. Unfortunately, such a merger would essentially mean the destruction of the U.S. Constitution and the civil liberties that Americans have enjoyed for over two centuries under the Bill of Rights. If we value our country, our democracy, and our Constitution, we would be well advised to get informed and organized, and defeat these “corridor” projects as they are presently defined.

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