Gallup Independent

Energy Corridor Draft EIS available

To review the West-Wide Energy Corridor Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and related documents, including detailed maps, visit the project website at http://corridoreis.anl.gov. Review copies also are available at libraries and agency regional and field offices. The Draft PEIS will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, Nov. 16, which initiates the 90-day public comment period. A public meeting will be held Jan. 23, 2008, in Window Rock and Jan. 24 in Albuquerque.

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau

Monday, November 12, 2007

WINDOW ROCK - A draft environmental impact statement designating proposed energy transport corridors on federal lands in 11 Western states has been released for public comment.

Though the West-Wide Energy Corridors approach the Navajo Nation, designations are not being made at this time. Letters have been sent to all 249 tribes with a potential interest in the project and tribes with concerns are invited to consult with the Department of Energy on a government-to-government basis.

The proposed corridors are designed to facilitate future siting of oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines as well as electricity transmission and distribution on federal lands in the West to help address growing energy demand.

The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Departments of Energy, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense released for public review and comment a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement last Thursday.

The proposed designation is tied to Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, crafted by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Section 1813 of the act required a federal study of energy rights-of-ways across Indian lands. The study was prompted by a right-of-way compensation dispute between the Navajo Nation and El Paso Natural Gas and included a review of the authority of Congress to condemn lands through eminent domain.

It also sought to override tribal sovereignty by having the Secretary of the Interior decide when rights-of-way are a matter or national energy security and to award compensation the Secretary deemed fair, despite tribal objections, if the negotiating parties could not come to terms.

The agencies involved in designating the corridors worked for nearly two years to develop the locations presented in the Draft EIS, according to Assistant Secretary of the Interior C. Stephen Allred.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Interior to designate energy transport corridors on federal lands in portions of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

As part of the act, the federal agencies were asked to amend their land use and resource management plans, effectively opening up more public lands to oil and gas drilling and mineral exploration.

Last August, former Navajo Nation Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. announced that the corridor would slice through the middle of the reservation, extending in a diagonal line from Leupp to Farmington. Dayish made the announcement after returning from a roundtable discussion in Colorado with Domenici and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Preliminary maps designating the corridors were posted last June but pulled from the WWEC Web-site in December after the federal agencies received more than 200 comments on the proposed designations.

George Arthur, chairman of the Navajo Nation's Resources Committee, said Thursday that the Nation hasn't really formulated a position on the corridors, "but we are aware that there is an ongoing discussion at the national level and we have expressed in various forms our interest and also our concerns."

"They have recently stated that they are willing to address this on a government-to-government basis, and that's what we desire. We would also like to state that we would do so knowing that it would be done in a manner that would be in the best interest of the Nation."

Arthur said the Nation had information initially indicating that the energy corridor did cross the nation. "But now if you look at it (map) again, it stops at the boundaries - it doesn't go anywhere," he said, but added that obviously, it would end up somewhere, going from Point A to point B.

"And getting to point B, you do have to deal with Navajo Nation land, and that's what we are very much interested in bringing to light."

Jonathan Shradar of DOE said Friday that no corridors are designated on tribal lands or national parks or national monument areas in the 11 states. "They're primarily on Bureau of Land Management lands and Forest Service lands."

Designating an energy corridor on Navajoland would require consultation with the Nation. "The key here is that these were just, as required by Congress, setting the corridor areas on federal land in those states. Sixty-some percent of those are already existing corridor areas - a lot of them locally regulated," Shradar said.

In the event there's an actual decision for a utility to build a transmission facility or line on tribal lands, they would have to work through local and National Environmental Policy Act laws as well as the tribes.

Shradar said electricity demand is expected to increase 43 to 50 percent over the next 25 years, and the corridor designation is "a step moving forward as we prepare for increased demand."

"If we have these areas kind of proposed and situated, and you've got some of the environmental impact stuff out of the way, it makes it easier to build the transmission lines. It acts as a one-stop shop for applicants to work through, through this process.

"It's not necessarily about putting new lines up at the moment, but it's recognizing that as our country grows, as our economy grows, demand is going to grow and we want to be prepared to meet that."

Shradar said he doesn't believe the issue of eminent domain plays into this round of the energy corridor issue "like it would in the previous corridor issue, because this is for federal lands. It avoids that scenario. Those issues would come up if there was an actual construction of a utility transmission line, and that's not the issue at the time."

He did not know whether the corridor would connect with the Navajo Transmission Project.

Eighty-four percent of the corridors proposed and analyzed in the Draft PEIS are located on BLM-managed lands, while 14 percent are on Forest Service lands. The remaining percentages are on lands managed by DOI's Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service, or by the Department of Defense.

The Draft PEIS proposal avoids major known and designated sensitive resource areas including wilderness areas and national parks, tribal lands, national monuments and national recreation areas, wherever possible.

Where the proposed corridors could not avoid sensitive areas, they are located along existing transmission lines, highways, pipelines or other rights-of-way, according to DOE.