In early July, the Federal Government agreed to review and revise the West-wide Energy Corridor Plan to settle a lawsuit brought by environmental groups in 2009 challenging the Energy Corridor Plan under NEPA, the FLPMA, and the ESA. The original version of the Energy Corridor Plan designated energy corridors across 11 western states primarily for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution lines. These energy corridors were developed pursuant to section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in order to, in part, streamline the review and processing of energy-related projects. Over 130 corridors were designated, covering approximately 6,000 miles and 3,000,000 acres of public and Forest Service lands.
The recent settlement essentially comprises four key elements:
- An interagency memorandum of understanding creating a process for periodic corridor review;
- Revised agency guidance regarding the use and development of energy corridors;
- Agency training that incorporates environmental concerns in pipeline and electricity transmission right-of-way applications; and
- A corridor study that will assess the effectiveness of the energy corridors in reducing the proliferation of dispersed right-of-ways on federal lands, among other research goals.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available here.
Under the new process of review of energy corridors, an interagency working group will assess the need for corridor revision, deletion, or addition on a regional basis, including enhanced stakeholder participation. In addition, three specific regional areas (northeastern California and northwestern Nevada; southern California, southeastern Nevada, and western Utah; southern Wyoming, northeastern Utah, and northwestern Colorado) will be re-evaluated based on four principles of siting:
- Provide maximum utility and minimum impact to the environment;
- Promote efficient use of the landscape;
- Appropriate and acceptable uses for specific corridors;
- Provide connectivity to renewable energy generation to the maximum extent possible considering other sources of generation, in order to balance renewable sources and to ensure safety and reliability of electricity transmission.
These principles will also guide future review and recommendations regarding the corridor network.
Revisions, deletions, or additions to the Energy Corridor Plan may also occur during amendments or revisions to land use plans or during review of a specific project proposal. The settlement expressly notes that project-specific NEPA analyses will evaluate whether the use of a designated energy corridor is appropriate and whether the corridor should be modified or deleted.
Finally, the settlement identifies a number of “Corridors of Concern” wherein “siting projects . . . will likely lead to heightened public interest and concern and may [b]e challenged; . . . involve substantially increased or extensive mitigation measures such as off-site mitigation to compensate for impacts to sensitive resources; . . . [i]nclude preparation of an environmental impact statement [EIS]; [i]nclude consideration of alternatives outside the corridor and consideration of an alternative that denies the requested use;”, or modification of deletion of the designated energy corridor.
The settlement, which was described as a “landmark” agreement and a “win-win outcome” by the plaintiff environmental groups, provides some critical context for project developers in determining where to site projects and related transmission and distribution facilities to facilitate and streamline environmental review and approval. The District Court dismissed the case with prejudice in accordance with the settlement on July 11, 2012. The “Corridors of Concern” are available here, and individual state maps showing various energy corridors are available at http://corridoreis.anl.gov/eis/fmap/sbm/index.cfm