For Immediate Release, January 10, 2008
Energy Department Fails to Consider Environmental Impacts of
Southwest Energy Corridor;
Conservation Group Files Lawsuit Over Corridor Designation
LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit in federal court in the central district of California to challenge the Department of Energy’s October 2007 designation of the Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor — a sweeping, 45-million-acre area that includes seven southern California and three Arizona counties — for failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the corridor.
“The Energy Department cannot turn southern California and western Arizona into an energy farm for Los Angeles and San Diego without taking a hard look at the environmental impacts of doing so,” said Amy Atwood, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Southwest Energy Corridor will have far-reaching environmental impacts that must be considered before moving forward.”
The Department of Energy designated the Southwest Corridor pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, allowing for “fast-track” approval of utility and power line projects within the corridor, nullifying state and federal environmental laws, and enabling energy companies to condemn private land for new high-voltage transmission lines.
“The Energy Department must ensure that the environmental impacts of creating such an expansive electric transmission corridor are closely analyzed and documented before any designation takes effect,” said Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center, lead attorney on the case. “By failing to do so, the Energy Department is giving inefficient transmission-based electricity an unfair advantage over conservation and more locally based energy production- an unwise choice that we cannot afford in this era of climate change.”
The 45-million-acre electric transmission corridor includes millions of acres of protected federal and state lands in California and Arizona, including 3 million acres of national parks and national wildlife refuges such as the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Sonoran Desert National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, and Carrizo Plain National Monument. The vast corridor also includes the 21-million-acre California Desert Conservation Area; 750,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management national monuments ; and a portion of the Las Californias, an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot that is home to hundreds of protected or rare species. Altogether there are nearly 7.5 million acres of federally designated wilderness, wilderness study areas, and citizen-proposed wilderness within the energy corridor. There are also at least 95 species that are listed as threatened or endangered with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center’s suit is being filed as the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and Piedmont Environmental Council are preparing to challenge the Energy Department’s designation of the Mid-Atlantic National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania under federal environmental laws..
The Center is being represented by Anderson and Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center and Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the central district of California.
Section 1221 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 required the Department of Energy to analyze and report to Congress on areas experiencing electric transmission “congestion” and designate such areas as “national interest electric transmission corridors.”
On October 5, 2007, the Department of Energy designated two such corridors, one of which was the Southwest Corridor. This corridor includes southern California’s Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties, as well as Arizona’s La Paz, Maricopa, and Yuma counties.
As a result of the Department of Energy’s designation, proposed projects in the Southwest Corridor are subject to an abridged permitting process orchestrated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which includes opportunities to override state agency decisions denying a project, use eminent domain to obtain rights-of-way across private lands, appeal federal agency denials of permits, and short-cut environmental reviews.
On December 21, 2007, the Center filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Energy Department over the Southwest Corridor for failing to analyze the impacts of the corridor on the at least 95 endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.