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Groups sue over energy plans

Published: Wednesday, July 8 2009 1:29 a.m. MDT

Multiple environmental groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, filed suit Tuesday in federal court challenging the lands designated as energy corridors in 11 Western states.

The lawsuit asserts the designation of the corridors ignored any alternatives that may favor the development of renewable energy and accordingly align with and "perpetuate the use of coal-fired plants throughout the West." As a result, the suit contends, the corridors "leave stranded and underserved" many areas with renewable energy resources.

The suit references Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's announcement last week that close to 700,000 acres of land in the West would be set aside as solar energy study areas — a move that runs counter to these energy corridors that have been mapped out by federal agencies.

In Utah, the suit said impacts to such places as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Arches National Park were not considered in the environmental analysis.

At issue is the federal plan for about 6,000 miles of energy corridors on 3.2 million acres that would be used for oil and natural gas pipelines as well as electric transmission lines.

The suit, in its criticism of what it calls the "Bush-era" decision, asserts that imperiled wildlife would be put at risk by the corridors, which also fail to consider impacts to land with "wilderness" character.

Named in the suit are top federal leaders of multiple agencies, including the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and Department of Energy, among others.

In challenging the plan, the suit said the designation of the energy corridors flies in the face of the renewable energy initiative embraced by the Western Governors Association and input received from governors of multiple Western states, including Utah, Idaho and New Mexico.

The corridors, the suit said, ignore the efforts states have taken so far to develop renewable energy zones.

"We need energy that links tomorrow's clean energy sources to America's cities rather than putting in transmission towers and lines that are hopelessly bound to yesterday's dirty energy," said EarthJustice attorney Katie Renshaw. EarthJustice is one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Additionally, the suit claims that the "viewshed" of Arches National Monument would be "dramatically" impacted by the corridor, which, along this section, would be 3,500 feet wide and run along the border of the park before it broadens south of Arches and Moab.

"Much of this area has been proposed for wilderness preservation, including 1,000 foot high cliffs, slickrock domes, streams and flood plains, sensitive soils and critical wildlife habitat," the suit says, adding that impacts to the view of the park, to private property owners or the town were not considered in the analysis.

The suit, filed in the Northern District of California, wants the corridors declared "unlawful."

E-MAIL: amyjoi@desnews.com

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