Fifteen environmental groups and a western Colorado county last week filed suit against the federal Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Energy, saying that the government’s “sprawling, hopscotch network” of 6,000 miles and 3.2 million acres of federal land designated as electricity transmission corridors promote coal- and gas-fired power generation, not renewable generation from sources like solar and wind.

“Instead of building new electric lines and transmission towers to connect areas high in solar, wind, and geothermal energy, the Bush plan envisioned building them to existing or proposed dirty coal plants,” the organizations said in a joint press release. “The Bush plan also inadequately supports the Obama administration’s efforts to guide solar development to the most ecologically, economically, and technologically suitable public-land locations for solar energy development. The legal challenge filed today aims to redirect new transmission lines so they link clean energy areas to consumers.”

The groups allege in their legal challenge (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that, as planned, the corridors ignore renewable portfolio standards adopted by nine of the 11 western states. It also says that the designated energy corridors “slices or brushes against borders of iconic public lands,” among these, Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Arches National Park, and New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

At the heart of the complaint are procedures set out by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, legislation that required federal agencies to designate corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal land. The groups said that the Bush administration ignored provisions in the act directing agency personnel to consult with local and state governments and evaluate environmental damage.

“The agencies ignored testimony at a Congressional oversight hearing and thousands of written comments from citizens, Western governors, and community leaders that provided a blueprint for smart, environmentally sensitive energy corridors that would support renewable energy,” they claim. “Instead they only considered the single network of corridors favored by industry.” The “West-wide” corridors plan stands in stark contrast to the Western Governors’ Association Western Renewable Energy Zone Initiative, which brought together conservation groups, industry, and community leaders to identify transmission corridors, they said.

It is unclear when the case will be heard. The plaintiffs are Bark; Center for Biological Diversity; County of San Miguel, Colorado; Defenders of Wildlife; Great Old Broads for Wilderness; Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center; National Parks Conservation Association; National Trust for Historic Preservation; Natural Resources Defense Council; Oregon Natural Desert Association; Sierra Club; Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; The Wilderness Society; Western Resource Advocates; and Western Watersheds Project.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity