Environmentalists are incensed at plans for the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management to punch thousands of miles of new power lines and pipelines through Western federal lands—including several national parks and forests—over the next 14 months. Last week, Congress passed legislation calling for the fast track construction of energy transfer corridors as a way to quickly shore up electricity supplies across the West. Previously, each individual project would have had to go through a lengthy environmental review and approval process, whereas now the Department of Energy can submit its proposed network of new lines for a single, less comprehensive review. Also, the legislation allows federal energy regulators to overrule federal, state or regional agencies obstructing energy corridor construction by designating power lines in the “national interest.”
Meanwhile, some worry that the huge number of potential new corridors and accelerated timeline could scar formerly pristine protected lands. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. They want to get by with a lot of sloppy, dirty work,” says retired geologist Howard Wilshire, who during his career at the U.S. Geological Survey studied how roads, power lines and other “linear developments” killed endangered species and eroded critical habitat.
A bipartisan Congressional majority approved the power corridor legislation at the urging of the Bush administration. Industry representatives say the legislation was two decades in the making, but had been repeatedly delayed by opposition from environmentalists.