Groups Challenge Department of Energy over Mid-Atlantic Corridor Designation

Date:   January 10, 2008
Contact:   Bryan Faehner, NPCA, 202-419-3700
Randy Sargent Neppl, National Wildlife Federation, 202-797-6865
Glen Besa, Sierra Club, 804-565-4950
Robert Lazaro, Piedmont Environmental Council, 571-225-0198

Groups Challenge Department of Energy over Mid-Atlantic Corridor Designation

Transmission Line Corridor Will Exacerbate Global Warming, Harm Public Health, Public Lands

SCRANTON, PA (January 10) – Today, eleven regional and national environmental organizations announced plans to file suit against the Department of Energy over its final designation of a Mid-Atlantic National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor. Led by the National Wildlife Federation and the Piedmont Environmental Council, the groups are challenging the designation on grounds that the Department of Energy violated the National Environmental Protection Act and Endangered Species Act by failing to study the potential harmful impacts of the corridor on air quality, wildlife, habitat and other natural resources.

"The Department of Energy has ignored the public interest in favor of the private interests of power companies,” said Randy Sargent Neppl, wildlife counsel at the National Wildlife Federation. "Our federal government should be working to find solutions that protect our natural heritage and promote a clean energy future so that our children and grandchildren will have healthy communities, clean air and abundant wildlife and wild places to enjoy."

"The Department of Energy has failed to do even the basic due diligence and analyze responsible and cost effective alternative ways of meeting the region’s energy needs. Efficiency and conservation should be the first order of business. Reducing both peak and base load demand through energy efficiency, conservation and expanding demand response programs should be a priority. The mid-Atlantic corridor designation puts an enormous area of the region at risk while sending our energy policy a major step backwards towards continued reliance on coal-fired generation," said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which directed the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to designate large geographic areas as National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETC). An NIETC designation gives power companies blanket approval to build new high-voltage interstate transmission lines within the corridor, including sensitive and protected lands. The designation also allows power companies to bypass local, state and federal environmental laws. A final mid-Atlantic designation was announced by DOE in October 2007.

Joining the lawsuit are Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Environmental Advocates of New York, Clean Air Council, Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, Civil War Preservation Trust, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Brandywine Conservancy and Natural Lands Trust. They are asking the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to compel DOE to perform an environmental impact statement on the corridor and consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over impacts to endangered species as required by law. Also, because the current designation would rely on some of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants to service the region’s power demands, the groups are asking that DOE go back and consider more environmentally-friendly alternatives.

"Unfortunately, rather than take this opportunity to promote renewable energy sources and encourage energy efficient solutions, the Department of Energy has put forth a plan that favors dirty coal and undermines regional efforts to combat global warming," said Glen Besa, regional field director of the Sierra Club. "The lack of environmental scrutiny given to proposed high-voltage transmission lines under this plan is alarming. The DOE has not even a made a token effort to study the region-wide impact of this corridor on wildlife, forests or water."

"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."

According to the suit, DOE has overstepped what Congress called for in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and designated lands that lie outside of the identified congestion area. The ambiguous definition of "corridor" has allowed DOE to designate more than 116,000 square miles in the mid-Atlantic, including parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic corridor designation affects over 49 million Americans. 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.

"Open space conservation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is an extraordinary public policy success story.  Time and again, citizens have gone to the polls to support continued funding to preserve the environment and enhance their quality of life. Through NIETC, there is real risk that utilities will seek to build new power lines across important natural and recreational lands. We must not allow the tangible investments we are making in our environmental future to be condemned by private interests," said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust.

"Supporters of so-called ‘national interest corridors’ should have to demonstrate that new transmission lines are the only reasonable solution to meeting energy needs before federally-sanctioned seizure of property is considered. We need an energy plan that both addresses our 21st century challenges and takes advantage of our 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.

"New York State is looking for clean and safe ways to meet our energy needs, and designating 47 New York counties to be part of this transmission corridor endangers our natural resources and is will increase our dependence on dirty coal-fired power plants," said Robert Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. "New Yorkers want to decide for themselves when and where to build new power transmission lines—and the Department of Energy's action hurts our communities and our environment."

"Clean Air Council is concerned that the Administration's transmission corridor will lead to significant increases in global warming pollution because of its reliance on dirty coal power plants. This will undermine the steps that Pennsylvania and many other states have taken to reduce our share of worldwide global warming emissions. This lawsuit is the first step towards restoring environmental responsibility to its rightful place at the heart of our energy policies," said Michael Leone of the Clean Air Council.

"Over 600,000 acres of open space have been permanently preserved in Delaware and Pennsylvania. It is absolutely critical that we fight for the permanent protection of open space that our conservation easements were thought to have already achieved," said Sherri Evans-Stanton of the Brandywine Conservancy.

"The designation of the mid-Atlantic NIETC, which covers an area from the Canadian border to West Virginia, will have devastating impacts on the lives of people and prevent state and local governments from taking a critical look at proposals for power line construction. There are places completely inappropriate to site transmission lines, for both human health and ecological value reasons. These corridors amount to a handover of states rights to the private interests of power companies. On behalf of our members, Catskill Mountainkeeper is committed to challenging the designation of NIETC corridors as part of our larger mission to protect this national treasure the Catskill Mountain Region," said Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. 

"There is far too much history at stake in this region to allow DOE to circumvent long established and necessary procedures. A thorough examination of hallowed battlegrounds and other historic resources is an absolute necessity in this situation. We need to ensure that our national heritage is not jeopardized simply because a few utility companies want to short circuit the process," said James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust.

The groups plan to file suit on Monday, January 14, 2008, in the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Center for Biological Diversity today is filing a similar lawsuit in the Central District of California challenging the Energy Department’s designation of the Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor. 



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