Statement of Craig Obey

 Statement of

Craig Obey, Vice President for Government Affairs

National Parks Conservation Association

  Re: "Energy Corridors"

  House Subcommittee on Domestic Reform

Committee on Oversight Hearing and Government Reform

U.S. House of Representatives

April 25, 2007

On behalf of our 335,000 members, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit a written statement on the possible siting of new electricity transmission facilities located within National Interest Energy Transmission Corridors (NIETCs) designated by the Department of Energy (DOE). Since 1919, NPCA has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. 

As outlined in the National Electric Transmission Congestion Study, certain regions of the country may need upgraded electricity transmission facilities to relieve electricity congestion. NPCA understands that the DOE faces a complex challenge in updating our nation’s electrical grid system in a deregulated energy environment. Furthermore, we recognize that new electricity transmission facilities may be needed. Thanks to the foresight of former congresses and administrations, statutes have been passed requiring that environmental reviews be completed before development projects occur that might harm our national heritage.

We firmly agree with members of Congress who have indicated that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was not intended to alter existing law with respect to energy-related rights-of-way crossing National Park Service lands, which can only occur with explicit congressional approval. NPCA believes that it would be wrong to site electricity transmission facilities through national parks or within their scenic viewsheds. Our nation’s citizens take great pride in the remarkable wildlife, scenic beauty, historical character, and inspiring cultural resources found in our national parks.

Simply stated, America’s national parks are not blank spots on a map in which to site new electricity corridors.

A number of companies have already proposed electricity corridors that would damage national parks. For example, the New York Regional Interconnect would pass through 73 miles of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and impair the very resources the park was established to protect. Additionally, the construction of new electricity corridors within the  scenic viewsheds of Gettysburg National Military Park, Antietam National Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield, Shenandoah National Park, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and other national parks could seriously damage park resources, the experience of park visitors, and the tourism-based economies of nearby communities.

Environmental Reviews Must Be Completed Before Designating NIETCs

While the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act requires that the Park Service “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein…” the agency has limited ability to protect the landscapes surrounding park boundaries. Fortunately, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969 to require federal agencies to conduct environmental reviews of “major Federal actions significantlyaffecting the quality of the human environment.” [1] Section 1221(j)(1) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 specifically acknowledged that NEPA requirements must be met stating, “ Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any requirement of the environmental laws of the United States, including, but not limited to, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”

NPCA is gravely concerned by the DOE’s apparent contention that the designation of major electricity corridors is not a major action. We believe that the designation of one or possibly multiple corridors constitutes a “major federal action” because such a designation would meet several of the categories outlined in 40 C.F.R § 1508.18, including the “adoption of official policy,” the “adoption of programs,” and the “approval of specific projects.” According to 40 C.F.R § 1508.27 “Significantly as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity.” Context refers to how an action affects “society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality.” Intensity refers to the severity of the impact. Among other aspects, officials are instructed by the regulation to consider:

  • Unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or ecologically critical areas;”
  • “The degree to which the action may adversely affect districts, sites, highways, structures, or objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or may cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural, or historical resources;” and
  • “The degree to which the action may adversely affect an endangered or threatened species or its habitat that has been determined to be critical under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

We are also concerned by the lack of action taken by the DOE to meet the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Under the NHPA, federal  agencies must “take into account” any effects that proposed projects might have on historic and cultural resources. The NHPA requires federal agencies to consider potential impacts on historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places “prior to the approval of the expenditure of any Federal funds on the undertaking or prior to the issuance of any license.”[2] The Act also allows the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity to comment on proposed projects.[3] These actions must take place early in the planning process so that developed alternatives avoid damaging America’s cultural and historic resources. 

NPCA encourages Congress to examine why the DOE has decided to avoid these basic legal requirements that would ensure America’s “significant” and irreplaceable national treasures are protected from new electricity transmission lines before NIETCs are designated.

National Parks Must Be Avoided

Our national parks are the most significant natural, cultural, and historic places within the American landscape, which is why they were set aside for protection in the past and why we cannot allow their impairment now.

The protection of national parks and other special lands are a testament to the public interest of the American people. It would be inappropriate for units of the National Park System to be included within the geographic boundaries of a National Interest Energy Transmission Corridor. Units of the National Park System include: National Parks, National Monuments, National Battlefields, National Preserves, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, National Historic and National Scenic Trails, National Natural and Historic Landmarks, and National Rivers. None of these various park units, along with National Park study areas and other protected public lands, should be included within the designation of any NIETC.  

National Parks Must Not Be Impaired

Existing authorities make electrical transmission and distribution rights-of-way permits discretionary, and contingent upon those proposals being consistent with the National Park Service Organic Act.[4] While the Secretary of Interior is authorized to issue rights-of-way permits for electricity distribution, “such permits shall be allowed… only upon the approval of the chief officer of the Department under whose supervision such park or reservation falls and upon a finding by him that the same is not incompatible with the public interest.” [5] For those instances where private interests own an easement through a national park, land deeds will have to be examined to determine the extent of the property right, including the size of the easement and the utilities permitted within the easement.

Agencies and NIETC applicants need to be advised that there exists a “congressional mandate not to allow any use of NPS land that would impair or be a derogation of the values and purposes for which the park was authorized or be incompatible with the public interest, except when authorized by Congress.”[6] Moreover, any proposal must be consistent with the Park Service’s mandate to conserve resources and avoid resource impairment, which is prohibited by the National Park Service Organic Act.

According to the Section 1.4.5 of the National Park Service’s 2006 Management Policies, an impact would constitute impairment if it “affects a resource or value whose conservation is:

  • Necessary to fulfill specific purposes identified in the establishing legislation or proclamation of the park, or
  • Key to the natural or cultural integrity of the park or to opportunities for enjoyment of the park, or
  • Identified in the park’s general management plan or other relevant Park Service planning documents as being of significance.”

Furthermore, the agency’s Management Policies state, “Impairment may also result from sources or activities outside the park .” Hence, it is possible that poorly sited electricity transmission towers and lines could be found by the professional judgment of the responsible Park Service manager to be an impairment of park resources or values.

LWCF Purchased Lands Are Protected

It remains unclear how the DOE plans to ensure that conservation lands purchased or partially funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be protected. Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in 1964 to create and preserve recreational opportunities by using revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling. The properties acquired or developed with LWCF monies are exempted from being used for energy transmission without the prior written approval of the Park Service Regional Director who must base their decision on criteria specifically outlined in the LWCF Act.[7]

If electricity corridors bisect lands acquired or developed with LWCF monies, it would constitute a “conversion” of public land to non-public uses because the electricity corridor would limit the recreational value of those lands. If a project proponent pursues a land conversion, they must

initiate the process by meeting with the appropriate local land managers who would then decide whether to submit the conversion request to the State, which in turn must still get the approval of the Park Service Regional Director. Applicants, federal agencies, and interested stakeholders should consult the Park Service’s “Project List By County and Summary Reports” website to discover where LWCF lands and funded recreation projects are located.

Marred Viewsheds Are Bad For Business

In November of 2006, NPCA published an economic study titled, “The U.S. National Park System: An Economic Asset at Risk,” which found that national parks support an astounding $13.3 billion of local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs, providing a $4 return to state and local economies for every $1 invested in park budgets. However, these economic benefits could be compromised if new electricity lines are erected within the scenic viewsheds of national parks. 

According to a 2004 study by the University of North Carolina—Asheville Department of Economics, visitation to national parks is affected by the quality of scenic vistas. The study was conducted with the cooperation of the Park Service-managed Blue Ridge Parkway unit, and found that respondents “indicated that the scenic quality along the Parkway is an important reason for their visitation. They indicated they would take fewer trips if scenic quality declines, and would make more trips with scenic quality improvements.”[8] New electricity transmission lines in Northern Virginia could very well scar the scenic views from Blue Ridge Parkway as it passes through Shenandoah National Park negatively impacting the tourism-based economies of nearby communities.

While new electricity transmission lines may in some situations have some economic benefits for certain electricity users, Congress should not forget the tremendous economic role national parks and open space provide to communities, states, and our country.

NYRI Proposal Would Impair Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River

NPCA is particularly concerned about the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) proposal that would construct a new 400 Kv electricity transmission line through the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. NYRI’s primary route would follow four miles of mountain ridges above the river, while the alternative route would run adjacent along 73 miles of the park’s Wild and Scenic River. Either of these alternatives would impair the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.

The park’s r iver management plan, developed with the help of 15 communities within the park’s boundary, states that “major electric lines” are an incompatible use anywhere in the river corridor due to their impact on the park’s cultural landscape.[9] The management plan also defines a “clear and direct threat” as being a “instance where new land use is proposed which is either: (1) identified on the list of new land uses which are incompatible within the Upper Delaware river corridor; or (2) identified as a land use which would, if developed in such a way, be counter to one or more of the principles and objectives set out in the river management plan and the Land  and Water Use Guidelines.”[10] Clearly, the NYRI, which proposes to erect a 400 Kv transmission line through the park, is inconsistent with the park’s river management plan, and qualifies as a “clear and direct threat” to the resources the park was established to preserve. 

Due to the threat posed by NYRI, the nonprofit organization American Rivers recently designated the Upper Delaware River as one of the most endangered rivers in the country. According to American Rivers, “the transmission corridor would require clear-cutting all trees and vegetation and regular spraying of herbicides within a 100-foot wide swath along the river, harming fish and eliminating significant amounts of wildlife habitat and beneficial vegetation along the river’s edge. The proposed power line would also cross numerous streams, creeks and other wetlands along the river.”[11] Furthermore, American Rivers is concerned that “construction of this power line would do irreparable harm not only to the Upper Delaware, but would set a bad precedent for the management of all rivers in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.”[12] 

The NYRI proposal has had many setbacks because of such public concern. In July 2006, the New York Public Service Commission determined that the NYRI’s application was incomplete and “significantly deficient”[13] . Last year, New York Governor George Pataki signed into a law legislation that established “ additional protections for communities across New York State by prohibiting transmission companies from utilizing eminent domain if a proposed project does not meet designated criteria. These new restrictions help to clarify the rights of a community and its residents, and will uphold their interests with regard to certain projects involving eminent domain.”[14] This new law was crafted to specifically block the NYRI from being approved and could arguably be considered an illustration that the public interest of New York State residents requires that national park lands not be impaired by electricity corridors.

NPCA is deeply concerned that if energy corridors extend to include the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, FERC could decide to approve the New York Regional Interconnect—even if the New York Public Service Commission decides that the Regional Interconnect is not in the best interest of New York. Already there is a substantial question as to whether the

designation of a National Interest Energy Transmission Corridor is needed. For example, the New York Independent System Operator’s Comprehensive Reliability Plan of 2005 concluded “ no action needs to be taken at this time to implement a regulated backstop solution or alternative regulated solution to address this reliability need.”[15]

Civil War Battlefields and Other Parks Are Threatened

The number of electricity transmission line proposals in the Mid-Atlantic region is staggering. The threat to Civil War battlefields is so immense that the Civil War Preservation Trust listed the  entire Northern Piedmont, which includes parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, as one of America’s most endangered battlefields in their “History Under Siege” report. According to the report,

 

“The Northern Piedmont is home to some of the most iconic battlefields of the entire war. The area is defined by the battles that raged across it, creating a unique cultural identity based on history... In the summer of 2006, electric energy giants Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power announced plans for a 500-kilovolt power line through portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The proposed routes would devastate environmental, cultural and historical resources throughout the region. The most controversial route, in Northern Virginia, would affect some 48,000 acres of land protected under preservation easements, including 11 existing historic districts, one National Historic Landmark, 19 State and National Historic Sites and seven Civil War battlefields. Other proposals would impact Monocacy and South Mountain in Maryland and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.” [16]  

The Dominion Virginia Power and Allegheny Power proposal calls for erecting electricity towers standing almost 200 feet tall and require up to 200-foot-wide rights-of-way through one of the country’s most historically rich and protected landscapes. In Virginia alone, a pproximately 434,000 acres of land visible from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The proposal would also damage the scenic and historical viewsheds of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park and Shenandoah National Park and cross through the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historical District, Rivers of Steel National Historic Area, and the proposed Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

While siting maps have not yet been released, NPCA is concerned that a separate 550-mile electricity line proposal by American Electric Power could also have serious visual impacts on national parks in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Parks whose scenic viewsheds could be damaged include Antietam National Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield, Gettysburg National Military Park, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. The proposal would also cross through Schuylkill River National Heritage Area, Delaware and Lehigh National Historic Corridor, and the proposed Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

Finally, PJM Interconnection has proposed two separate projects known as the “Delaware River Path” and the “Allegany Mountain Corridor.” Although there is limited public information regarding the two proposals, we are concerned that many natural and historic resources could be affected. For example, the Delaware River Path proposal could pass through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which received 5.2 million visitors in 2006—making it the eighth most visited national park in the National Park System. This popular 67,000-acre park, located within both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is home to many rare, threatened, and endangered  species, including the peregrine falcon, which could be affected by these proposed energy corridors.

Conclusion

NPCA strongly believes that Americans need not have to make the false choice between having electricity for their homes and protecting our national heritage. Thankfully, Congress has passed various statutes, including NEPA, to ensure that federal agencies consult the public and work with appropriate stakeholders so that national parks and other protected lands are considered when major federal actions are undertaken. NPCA encourages Congress to examine whether the DOE plans on fulfilling the stated requirements of Section 1221(j)(1) and anticipates performing the necessary environmental reviews before National Interest Energy Transmission Corridors are designated.

Certainly, providing adequate supplies of energy at a reasonable cost is an important national priority, but it is not the only national priority. Due to the Park Service’s mandate to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein…” national parks and other protected lands should be considered off-limits and not included within the geographic boundaries of NIETCs.

Thank you for this opportunity to outline our concerns regarding this important issue. With your help, we can ensure that America’s national parks are protected unimpaired for future generations.


[1] 42 U.S.C § 4332(2)(C)

[2] 36 C.F.R. § 800.1(c)

[3] 16 U.S.C. § 470(f)

[4] 2006 National Park Service Management Policies, Section 8.6.4.2

[5] 31 Stat. 790 and 43 U.S.C. § 959

[6] National Park Service Reference Manual 53, Appendix 5

[7] 16 U.S.C. § 460l –8 and 36 C.F.R. Part 59

[8] University of North Carolina-Asheville. Blue Ridge Parkway Scenic Experience Project Results Synthesis: Phase I Southwest Virginia and Phase II Northern North Carolina. April 2004.

[9] National Park Service. 1986 Upper Delaware River Management Plan. November 1986.

[10] Ibid.

[11] American Rivers. America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2007: #4 Upper Delaware River. 2007.

[12] Ibid.

[13] New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Letter to New York Public Service Commission, Re: Case No. 06-T-0650 Application of New York Regional Interconnect, Inc. For a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need Pursuant to Article VII of the Public Service Law. July 18, 2006.

[14] State of New York. Press Release: Govenor Signs Legislation Limiting the Use of Eminent Domain. October 3, 2006.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Civil War Preservation Trust. History Under Siege: A Guide to America’s Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields. 2007.

 


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