Energy Corridors, Power Lines Threaten National Parkland

Last Updated: July 6, 2012

For generations, Americans have found inspiration in the scenic beauty preserved in our national parks. Today, nearly 300 million visitors enjoy the national parks annually; National Park Service surveys reveal that visitors expect scenic views as part of their vacations.

However, the Park Service’s ability to meet its mandate to “conserve the scenery” within the parks could be threatened if new energy corridors, included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, are inappropriately sited through or within the scenic viewsheds of national battlefields, national scenic trails, and other national parks within the park system.

The Energy Policy Act provides for two specific types of energy corridors, both of which could harm parks:

Section 368 instructs the Secretaries of Energy, Interior, and other agencies to work with stakeholders to designate two-thirds-mile-wide energy corridors for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on public lands. A draft “West-Wide” Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) has been prepared for Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The remaining Eastern States, along with Alaska and Hawaii, will designate energy corridors by August 2009.

The draft West-Wide PEIS is problematic because is includes only one alternative, which would designate approximately 6,000 miles of energy corridors that link polluting coal power plants throughout the West. National parks that may be at risk include:

  • Arches National Park (UT). A proposed energy corridor running adjacent to the park’s western boundary where visitors enter. Instead, the DOE should site the corridor along Interstate 70 to avoid the park and its famous views.
  • Joshua Tree National Park (CA). A proposed energy corridor would be located adjacent to the park’s southern boundary.
  • Mojave National Preserve (CA). Two new energy corridors are proposed at Mojave National Preserve: one along the park’s northern boundary and one along the park’s southern boundary. Both routes follow scenic roads used by visitors to access the preserve. 

Section 1221allows the Department of Energy (DOE) to designate new National Interest Electricity Transmission Corridors (NIETC), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the ability to override state siting-authorities that either turn down or fail to approve an energy company’s proposed electricity transmission line within a year. On October 2, 2007, the DOE designated the Mid-Atlantic Area National Corridor, which contains 35 national park units (outside the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC), and the Southwest Area National Corridor, which includes 4 national park units. Specific national parks at risk include:

  • Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (NY and PA). The New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) proposal would construct new 130-foot-high towers through the park, impairing 73 miles of the park’s national wild and scenic river. The scale of this project qualifies as a “clear and direct threat” to the park according to the park’s River Management Plan because it would impair the very scenic views and natural areas that the park was established by Congress to protect. 
  • Shenandoah National Park (VA), Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (VA), Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historical District (VA), the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ME to GA), and the proposed Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (PA, MD, VA, and WV).  A proposal by Dominion and Allegheny Energy threatens approximately 434,000 acres of land visible from the Appalachian Trail in Virginia alone, and approximately 112,000 acres protected through public and private methods, including conservation easements. 
  • Antietam National Battlefield (MD), Monocacy National Battlefield (MD), Gettysburg National Military Park (PA), Appalachian National Scenic Trail (ME to GA), C&O Canal National Historical Park (MD, WV, and DC), Schuylkill River National Heritage Area (PA), Delaware and Lehigh National

Historic Corridor (PA), and the proposed Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (PA, MD, VA, and WV). A proposal by American Electric Power to construct a 550-mile electricity transmission line could have serious negative impacts on the scenic views so important to national battlefields and other national parks.

NPCA Recommends:

  • New energy corridors and power lines avoid national parks and their respective scenic viewsheds and do not support the expanded use of polluting energy sources, such as coal;
  • The designation processes comply with all applicable federal laws including the National Environmental Protection Act, the National Historical Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act;
  • Any approved energy corridors and power lines do not violate any relevant Park Service resource studies, viewshed analysis, and the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act; and
  • Designated energy corridors contain strong mitigation measures, to address adverse affects on viewsheds, water quality, wildlife habitat and corridors, and native plants.

NPCA firmly agrees with members of Congress that believe the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was not intended to alter existing law with respect to energy-related rights-of-way crossing Park Service lands. Such proposals can only occur with explicit congressional approval. Consecutive federal administrations and Congresses working on behalf of the American people have routinely demonstrated that protecting national parks is a national priority. We must ensure that future generations can experience America’s scenic wonders unspoiled. 

For More Information

Contact Kristen Brengel, Director of Legislative and Government Affairs at kbrengel@npca.org.

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