For Immediate Release, December 20, 2007
Contact: Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (541) 914-8372
Energy Department Fails to Consider Impacts of
Southwest Energy Corridor on 95 Endangered Species;
Conservation Group Takes First Step in Lawsuit Over Corridor Designation
TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Department of Energy over the agency’s October 2007 designation of the Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor — a sweeping area that includes seven southern California and three Arizona counties — for failing to analyze the impacts of the corridor on at least 95 endangered and threatened species.
“The Energy Department cannot turn a blind eye to the impacts of the Southwest Corridor on endangered species,” said Amy Atwood, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Southwest Energy Corridor is a death sentence for as many as 95 endangered and threatened species.”
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 federal condemnation of private land for new high-voltage transmission lines.
“Giving power companies carte blanche to destroy endangered species habitat is not in the nation’s best interest,” said Atwood. “The Energy Department and energy companies need to play by the rules and ensure that future development doesn’t risk the survival of the nation’s wildlife.”
The 45-million-acre energy 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 .
Federally listed endangered and threatened species with habitat within the Southwest Corridor include the southwestern willow flycatcher, arroyo toad, desert tortoise, desert pupfish, California gnatcatcher, San Diego fairy shrimp, peninsular bighorn sheep, and many others. Some of these species, like the desert tortoise, are specifically known to be threatened by energy and utility facilities.
“San Diego County alone has more threatened and endangered species than any other county in the continental United States,” said Atwood. “The Department of Energy has unlawfully opened the door for power companies to locate their facilities anywhere they want, without considering the impacts to these imperiled species.”
The Center’s notice of intent to sue was written by Megan Anderson and Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center.
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 not to permit a project, use eminent domain to obtain rights-of-way across private lands, appeal federal agency denials of permits, and streamline environmental reviews.