LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - March 12 - The Center for Biological Diversity today amended its federal district court lawsuit challenging the Department of Energy’s October 2007 designation of the Southwest National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor — a sweeping, 45-million-acre area that includes seven southern California and three Arizona counties — for failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the corridor to at least 95 species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Energy Department has turned a blind eye to the impact of federally siting electric transmission lines and facilities in this huge area,” said Amy Atwood, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are dozens of endangered species in the area that are already suffering the effects of habitat loss and degradation and will only be pushed further toward the brink of extinction as the result of huge transmission projects designed to serve southern California’s energy demands.”
The Department of Energy designated the Southwest Corridor pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, allowing for “fast-track” approval of utility and power line projects within the corridor, nullifying state and federal environmental laws, and enabling energy companies to condemn private land for new high-voltage transmission lines.
“The areas DOE included within the Southwest Corridor are incredibly rich in species, including the center of an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot,” said Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center, lead attorney on the case. “However, far too many of the species that inhabit this area are already endangered or threatened with extinction. For DOE to completely refuse to consider the impact of its action on these species is not only illegal, it is irresponsible given the uphill battle these species already face.”
The 45-million-acre electric transmission corridor includes millions of acres of protected federal and state lands in California and Arizona and at least 95 species that are listed as threatened or endangered with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center is being represented by Anderson and Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center and Atwood and Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity. The suit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the central district of California.
Section 1221 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 required the Department of Energy to analyze and report to Congress on areas experiencing electric transmission “congestion” and designate such areas as “national interest electric transmission corridors.”
On October 5, 2007, the Department of Energy designated two such corridors, one of which was the Southwest Corridor. This corridor includes southern California’s Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties, as well as Arizona’s La Paz, Maricopa, and Yuma counties.
As a result of the Department of Energy’s designation, proposed projects in the Southwest Corridor are subject to an abridged permitting process orchestrated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which includes opportunities to override state agency decisions denying a project, use eminent domain to obtain rights-of-way across private lands, appeal federal agency denials of permits, and short-cut environmental reviews.
On December 21, 2007, the Center filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Energy Department over the Southwest Corridor for failing to analyze the impacts of the corridor on the at least 95 endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Center filed a complaint alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and Energy Policy Act of 2005 on January 10, 2008. Today’s amended complaint adds violations of the Endangered Species Act to the federal district court challenge.