Press Release | April 30, 2008

DOE pushes federal condemnation for coal by wire

Additional Contacts:
Virgil McDill, [email protected], 202-294-9187
Robert Lazaro, [email protected], 571-225-0198
Bryan Faehner, [email protected], 202-419-3700
Andy Loza, [email protected], 717-230-8560

Yesterday, six regional and national environmental and historic preservation organizations and one local government in Virginia filed a petition for judicial review of the Department of Energy's final designation of the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC's or National Corridors) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where similar petitions challenging this decision have been consolidated. Lead by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Piedmont Environmental Council, the groups charge that the Department of Energy's action violated key environmental laws and failed to follow the statutory requirements of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The NIETC designations cover a broad swath of eight states and over 220 counties in the Mid-Atlantic and portions of Arizona and California in the Southwest corridor.

In 2005, Congress passed Section 1221 of the Energy Policy Act, which directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to consider the necessity for designating geographic areas as NIETC's to alleviate electric transmission congestion. The legislation imposes severe time limits for state agencies reviewing proposed transmission lines within an area designated as an NIETC – one year to approve a transmission proposal – after which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can displace ongoing state proceedings. The legislation also authorizes the broad use of federal “eminent domain” power to advance transmission projects. Designation is intended to expedite the approval of new high-voltage interstate transmission lines within designated corridors, with little regard to local, state, and federal environmental laws, and leaving sensitive lands and resources at risk of harm or destruction.

Environmental, historic and consumer organizations, and local and state governments representing millions of Americans have questioned the Department of Energy's corridor program since its inception. Final designations in the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest were announced by DOE in October 2007. The groups sought a rehearing by the DOE of the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest corridors, but in March, the agency denied the request, forcing parties to take further legal action.

In the face of proposed federal cap–and–trade legislation for carbon dioxide, which is currently being debated in Congress, utilities want to build transmission lines to increase transfer capacity from some of the country's oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants to service the Mid-Atlantic region's power demands. The Mid-Atlantic region's transmission organization, PJM Interconnection, has called “increasingly strict environmental controls” in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey a reason for building new transmission lines to power plants located in states with less stringent air quality regulations. “The power companies want transmission lines stretching all the way to Ohio because that's where they believe the environmental rules for building coal fired power plants are most lax. They cannot be allowed to exploit these long-distance power corridors in an attempt to literally run away from our most progressive environmental laws,” said Cale Jaffe of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“Supporters of so-called 'national interest corridors' should have to demonstrate that there are no reasonable alternatives before federal condemnation can be used. We need energy planning that takes advantage of 21st century technologies. Local generation, demand-response and energy efficiency most likely can meet our energy needs faster and more cheaply than huge new power lines. And these technologies can meet our needs without harming communities,” said Andy Loza, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

DOE has designated more than 116,000 square miles of lands in the Mid-Atlantic, including parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Within the area are dozens of state and national parks, refuges and recreation areas, including the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Shenandoah National Park and the Upper Delaware Scenic and National Recreation River.

Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation expressed grave concerns about the consequences of the designations. “The Department of Energy's sweeping designation of the two massive corridors puts some of our nation's most significant historic places at risk, including Civil War Battlefields, National Heritage Areas, tribal cultural resources, and some of our most historic landscapes,” Moe said. “Opening the door to an expedited approval process — one that places untenable time constraints on the states to authorize transmission projects — forces the public to accept the siting for transmission lines with little or no regard for the resources affected by these sprawling projects. Our purpose in bringing this appeal is to ensure that the Department fully considers the potentially devastating impact on historic and natural resources before making any siting decisions.”

“The National Park Service is mandated to 'conserve the scenery' of our national parks-adding new power lines near or through national park sites could severely compromise our national heritage,” said Bryan Faehner of the National Parks Conservation Association. “It is simply inappropriate for energy corridors to be built within the geographic boundaries of, or even within view of national parks such as Gettysburg.”

The Department of Energy Act gives parties 60 days to petition for judicial review of the denial of the request for rehearing on the final NIETC designations. To date, the states of New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania have taken legal action and a number of environmental organizations have sought review of the final Southwest NIETC designation. Other states are expected to petition for review of the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors by May 5, 2008.

“DOE has given little weight to the reality that efficiency and conservation have to be part of any modern day energy solution. Demand side resources are cost effective and sustainable and no one's valuable public resources are put at risk. DOE and the utility industry's lack of consideration of known alternatives to these coal by wire projects is not only unethical, it will have a long term devastating impact on global climate change by subsidizing coal fired generation years into the future. That is not a wise investment,” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

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