The only public hearing in Montana on proposed energy corridors in 11 Western states prompted few comments Tuesday, even though almost every seat was taken in the meeting room at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena.
Most of those in attendance were representing some official organization and spoke in favor of designating corridors on federal lands for gas, electricity and other energy transmitters.
Specifically, they favor routes following Highway 287 from Townsend to Three Forks, then westward toward Butte and Anaconda and splitting to run north and south along the interstates.
Another favored route could run from Townsend across Interstate 15 and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, then north to Garrison and continue into Idaho.
“I’m bringing 200 petition letters asking for either the Garrison/Mill Town or Townsend/Three Forks/Milk Creek routes,” said Linda Sather, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County commissioner. “We want this in our county. We welcome it and support it wholeheartedly.”
But others are wary of the corridors, saying they could run through roadless areas and trails. The Wilderness Society notes that Wonderful Peak, Gilt Edge-Silver Creek, Italian Peak and Garfield Mountain roadless areas, as well as the Continental and Lewis and Clark trails, all could be home to gas, oil and hydrogen pipelines and electric transmission facilities.
The proposed corridors also cross through 12 national parks, monuments or recreation areas and three wildlife refuges. That’s down from the initial consideration that involved 29 national parks, monuments or recreation areas; 15 wildlife refuges; and 58 wilderness areas.
“Although the Energy Department has made significant improvements in their proposed corridor designations, the proposed corridors still lack thorough consideration of the likely damage to federal lands and other places,” said Nada Culver, who has tracked the process for the Wilderness Society since it began. “In Montana and elsewhere, the Energy Department needs to come up with alternatives to minimize the number of corridors and maximize use of renewable energy, and it should include firm requirements to limit all projects to designated corridors.”
The energy corridors, which are proposed only for federal lands, are part of Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The corridors represent the preferred locations for oil, natural gas, and hydrogen pipelines, as well as electricity transmission and distribution facilities.
Once projects are actually proposed for these corridors, they would undergo additional environmental review before permits were issued and rights-of-way were granted.
As yet, it’s unclear what would happen if the private or state lands are sandwiched between two federal parcels with designated corridors. In previous meetings, landowners have voiced concerns over energy companies asking the state to implement “eminent domain” laws, which allow for the use of private land for the greater public good.
The Energy Act grew out of frustration over the length of time it takes the energy industry to get approval to run pipelines and power lines.
The Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management were tasked with putting together the corridors and are working on the project with other federal land agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense.
Two states – California and Wyoming – also have signed on as cooperating agencies, as well as six local governments in Wyoming. In addition, at least a dozen American Indian tribes want a say in the corridors’ locations, and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service also wants to be involved.
Jeff Barber with the Montana Environmental Information Center added that while they support the idea of energy corridors, they would like them placed within existing transmission routes and if possible to limit the export of Montana power.
“If it’s a coal plant exporting power, that’s not a direction we want to go,” Barber said. “But if it’s wind generation we want to export, that’s a different situation.”
Tuesday’s meeting is part of a “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” covering 11 Western states. The document lays out general corridors for energy transmission, and is expected to be finalized by mid summer. Additional research will be done after that for specific projects that are presented for areas within the corridors.
Overall, the corridors include 6,055 miles over almost 3 million acres in Montana, California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona.
Brian Mills, Department of Energy environmental protection specialist, said the corridors would be about 3,500 feet wide – although that could vary – with 3,700 miles in existing corridors’ right of way.
In Montana, the proposed corridors cover 102 miles over 42,000 acres of federal land.
The online version of the draft PEIS includes a link to GoogleEarth, with the corridors drawn in yellow. This allows the viewer to zoom in on the proposed corridors to see their precise locations. Click here to read the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.
By Eve Byron
30 January 2008
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