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Signpost Cartoon C. Rudi Klimpert

Democrats mull corridor plan

—PATRICK REIS, E&E DAILY REPORTER

Reprinted from E&E Daily with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net. 202/628-6500.

House Democrats called on the federal government to revise their proposal for Western energy corridors yesterday, saying the current plans benefit coal at the expense of renewable energy sources, disregard environmentally sensitive areas, and were compiled without sufficient input from state, local, and tribal governments.

While they acknowledged that the corridors are necessary to pursue energy independence and to meet increasing demand, National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) asked administration officials for more time at a joint hearing with the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee.

“The current map looks like a giant extension cord to existing coal sources,” Grijalva said. “Transmission is key to the development and sustainability of renewable energy. If that wasn’t taken into account, that’s a huge step backward.”

The 2005 Energy Policy Act required the Energy Department, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies to designate corridors for energy infrastructure, including pipelines and power lines. The proposed energy corridors would traverse federal lands in eleven Western states, including crossings on national parks, wildlife refuges, and other protected areas. Within the corridors, the permitting process would be streamlined by allowing federal regulators to site power lines. The agencies produced a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) last November and expect a final EIS this summer.

“The EIS spent too much time alleging there would be no damage [from the corridors] and not enough evaluating its potential effects,” Grijalva said. “If it takes another six months to yield a better product, I think it’s worth it.”

Republicans said the plans strike a good balance and that a delay would go against the public interest. “There will always be those who say you valued one fuel over another,” Parks Subcommittee ranking member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told BLM Deputy Director Luke Johnson.

Johnson argued that the corridors passed through established coal plants in order to take full advantage of existing corridors for power transmission but said the plans “made every effort to incorporate renewable resources.”

DeFazio countered that the routes connect with proposed coal plants that are yet to be built.

He also charged the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, whose study predicted future need for power transmission and made recommendations to the agencies, failed to analyze the merits of funding energy efficiency initiatives instead of new transmission lines. “You relied on the utilities for their estimates on how much power was needed, and asserted like Mr. Bishop did that efficiency efforts won’t matter without any data to back that up,” DeFazio said. “The smartest corridor is one we don’t need to build.”

Echoing the complaints of state and local government officials, Hualapai Nation Chairman Charles Vaughn complained that his organization was not given sufficient input into the process, even while the corridors ran through lands of historical and cultural importance to the nation. “For an agency to decide on a route before consulting with tribes to identify such properties is an invitation to failure,” he said. “The present approach… conveys the message that [the agencies] will define the consultation process and they really don’t much care about tribes’ concerns.”

New Mexico Secretary of Energy and Minerals Joanna Prukop warned that by failing to consult with local entities in siting the corridors on federal land, it may be increasingly difficult to connect the corridors on state or private lands.

Johnson defended the process, saying the agency did “very well” in coordinating with the state and other agencies. When asked if his agency could have taken more time to conduct the study without hurting the final results, Johnson responded, “Yes, but the public wants it done sooner rather than later.”

Representative Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), the ranking member of Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, implored the committee to allow the process to keep moving. “We might ask what is more important—ensuring one more power line doesn’t parallel a freeway across federal lands, or providing reliable energy transmission to individual homes, apartments, hospitals, government offices, and business and industry—the driving forces of our economy.” he said.


West-wide energy corridor update

—REID BANDEEN

Governor Richardson’s Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources, Joanna Prukop, traveled to Washington to testify at the Congressional Hearings on the proposed West-wide energy corridor project. Her comments reflect the concerns of many Placitans and those submitted by the Las Placitas Association. These concerns include conducting a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that is out of compliance with key federal laws, ignoring of community concerns in the placement of the corridors (especially in areas where corridors are likely to be placed beyond boundaries of the proposed federal lands corridor segments), and failure to align corridor routes to efficiently access new alternative energy sources such as solar and wind energy. Many of the latter could follow already existing utility easements in areas away from the proposed new corridors.

Opponents of the project testifying before the House Committee on Natural Resources on April 15 have urged the Committee to recommend the West-wide energy corridor PEIS be revised to properly address the reasonably foreseen environmental impacts from the complete project (as it would be constructed on both federal and non-federal land), and conduct proper outreach and consultation with affected private property owners, county, and tribal governments in placement of energy corridors.

Secretary Prukop specifically noted the concerns of Placitans in her testimony, citing Placitas as a prime example of adverse community impacts due to the proposed corridors.

Complete written testimony from Ms. Prukop and all the witnesses presenting at the hearings can be accessed at: http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/index.php?option=com_jcalpro&Itemid=27&extmode=view&extid=160.


GreenBuilt Tour returns

The U.S. Green Building Council New Mexico Chapter (USGBCNM) will hold its ninth annual GreenBuilt Tour in New Mexico on May 17 and 18. The GreenBuilt Tour is part of a weeklong event called Sustainability Week.

The GreenBuilt Tour is an excellent opportunity for the public to learn about the features of a green home and how sustainable homes are built. The tour also offers inspiration to attendees about how they can “green” their homes.

A committee will select homes to be represented on the GreenBuilt Tour, and all qualifying homes will need to fulfill certain green building standards.

The GreenBuilt Tour will culminate Sustainability Week events being planned by USGBCNM.

On Saturday, May 10 in Albuquerque, a series of lectures and workshops will be held along with a vendors’ show offering information about green building, including products and materials that are environmentally friendly. During the week, there will be tours of green commercial buildings, as well as workshops for building professionals.

In the heart of the bosque in Bernalillo, Autumn Sage Estates, a 3100+-square-foot home for sale with an unobstructed view of the Sandia Mountains is loaded with green features, making it energy-efficient and on the cutting edge of the green build phenomenon. It was recently filmed by the Discovery Channel’s “Planet Green” program, and will be featured on this year’s GreenBuilt Tour.

For more information, visit www.greenbuilttour.net.


Las Placitas Association sponsors birding and plant hikes

Hart Schwarz, a leading New Mexico bird specialist, will lead a birding hike entitled “Migratory and Nesting Birds of the Placitas Open Space” on May 3. Participants are encouraged to wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring lots of water and a snack. Please do not bring pets. Meet at the Open Space East Access at 8:15 a.m. You can see the Placitas Open Space bird list at http://www.lasplacitas.org/lpa_pdfs/bird_list.pdf.

On May 17, Las Placitas Association will present “Plants of the Placitas Open Space.” William Dunmire will lead us on a tour of the Placitas Open Space to identify shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants. The wildflowers should be spectacular this year! Bill is a retired National Park Service naturalist and writer/photographer on natural history topics. You can see the Placitas Open Space Plant List at http://www.lasplacitas.org/lpa_pdfs/plant_list.pdf. To participate in the tour, meet at the Open Space East Access at 8:45 a.m.

To reach the Placitas Open Space, take I-25 to exit 242, drive east on Highway 165 for 6.9 miles. Turn left onto Camino de las Huertas for 2.9 miles. Turn left on Llano del Norte; then go 0.4 miles. As the road bends left, follow it around. Follow the dirt road west about 0.7 miles. The “main road” bends to the left at a fence. Keep going straight on the two-track road. Drive along the fence about 0.1 miles until you bear slightly right and you’ll come to a gate marked “BLM Property.” Drive through the gate (please close it) and follow the two-track road around to the left. Go through the second drop-gate and keep following the two-track road. You’ll come to an Albuquerque Open Space sign, where you should park.

For further information, call 867-5477 or email: lasplacitas@gmail.com.


These are the West’s good old days

—STEVEN ALBERT, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

When I was younger, I was sure I’d been born into the wrong century. Everything I read about America in the 1800s made me wish I’d lived along that expanding Western frontier where people lived adventurous lives. My life seemed stale and predictable in comparison, with all the excitement sapped out of the West, buried under shopping centers and Interstates. As I traveled, I used my dog-eared copy of “The Journals of Lewis and Clark” as part road atlas, part travelogue of that earlier West.

I’d squint at the passing scene, dissolving the mini-malls and subdivisions. I obliterated Phoenix and pictured a vast plain of saguaros. I wiped Denver off the map and envisioned a people-less Front Range. It was not only the geography, but the ideals of America in the mid-19th century that fascinated me, especially as I read the extravagantly enthusiastic essays of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Twain. They knew they were heralding something fresh.

Recently, I’ve begun to question that rose-tinted view. It’s true that if you were white and male — being rich didn’t hurt either — it was a great time to be alive with the call of Manifest Destiny ringing down the canyons. But what if you were female, black or Native American? You were disenfranchised, a slave, or the target of a genocidal campaign. After York, the slave owned by William Clark, confronted every danger endured by the Corps of Discovery, begged for his freedom, Clark refused. Have you ever heard of Margaret Fuller, Margaret Wood Emerson, or Elizabeth Palmer Peabody? They were the Transcendentalist women, writers as gifted as their male counterparts, but confined by roles that would never recognize their genius.

Life expectancy at the time was about 36. Tetanus, small pox, polio and rheumatic fever were common. People died from shaving after lethally infected nicks. Teeth were pulled, not saved, there was no anesthesia, and personal hygiene was sketchy. People had rotting teeth and stank, women spent 120 hours a week cooking, cleaning, mending and washing, and there were no labor laws to protect anyone. Most people lived and died within a day’s journey of their homes.

And what of life today, an historical tick of the clock later? By any American yardstick, I’m hardly rich, though by the standards of much of the rest of the world I’m a Rockefeller, though that’s another story. Yet in the past year I’ve had experiences that a generation ago people would have considered lifetime events. I’ve traveled widely, including overseas, and vacationed in some of the most beautiful spots in the West.

I’ve worked largely from home and spent abundant time with my kids; ate fresh, great tasting and varied food; read any newspaper in the world I wanted on-line; had my choice of nearly any kind of music or movie ever recorded; and stayed in instantaneous touch with friends and family all over the planet via email. Great coffee. Fantastic beer. None of these luxuries is beyond the reach of most people with a regular job.

And here's the best part: At the same time I enjoyed modern conveniences, I also experienced some of the best of those earlier “innocent” times. I headed for the mountains for camping trips, hiking in un-peopled wilderness, though with far less wildlife than two centuries ago. With a lightweight sleeping bag, comfortable pack and great raingear, I was able to go almost anywhere. These are the good old days.

Perhaps all generations feel this wide-eyed wonder. My father, a child of the Great Depression, vividly remembers the day they took away the icebox and brought in a refrigerator. People must have felt that same wonder when they got their first washing machine or electric lights.

Yet I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something fundamentally different about our times. The changes seem more permanent and what’s left to protect more precious, even as the amenities abound. I’m not ignorant of the costs of our high-tech, globe-trotting existence. If everyone in, say, China enjoyed our standard of living, which they are on a path to do, the planet’s natural resources would soon be exhausted.

It’s easy to envision a time when the only open spaces will be those legally protected as wilderness — small islands in a sea of subdivisions. But that’s years away, isn’t it? Until then, I have a million acres of publicly owned land in my back yard and a film festival up the road. Life is great. Right?

Steven Albert is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a wildlife biologist and senior scientist in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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