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Groups To Sue US DOE Over Power Corridors

Jan 9, 2008 - Dow Jones & Company, Inc

Nearly a dozen environmental groups will sue the U.S. Department of Energy next week to stop development of national transmission corridors, an official at one of the organizations said Wednesday.

The federal government in October declared large swaths of the Southwest and mid-Atlantic regions as critical to the U.S. energy grid, saying the corridors are vital to reduce critically congested areas where transmission is needed to meet electricity demand and prevent power crises.

The department at the time said the federal right of eminent domain would counter a "not-in-my-backyard" syndrome that many in the industry believe has obstructed development of needed new capacity.

But the National Wildlife Federation and other groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Natural Lands Trust, will file lawsuits in two federal district courts next week - one in the District of Columbia and the other in California - alleging the corridors are illegal under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

"We're hoping the court will force the Department of Energy to completely halt any work in the corridors," said an official at one of the groups who requested anonymity because the suit hadn't been formally announced.

Julie Ruggiero, spokeswoman for the DoE, said companies applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - which approves transmission proposals - " would still have to provide and follow all the necessary legal and environmental regulations."

"Designation of corridors...in and of itself has no environmental impact, but instead identifies a problem and shines a spotlight on areas of the country that are experiencing or could experience interruptions in power supply," Ruggiero said.

The government in October announced two National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors, which encompass all or part of 10 states.

It is the first use of a new federal power to approve construction of electric lines in some places where state officials have stymied them. Some lawmakers and community groups argue the government corridors wrongly expand the potential use of eminent domain power.

The mid-Atlantic power corridor runs from Virginia and Washington north to include most of Maryland, all of New Jersey and Delaware and large sections of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The Southwest corridor is composed of seven counties in southern California and three in Arizona.

Under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, the federal government can approve new power transmission towers within the corridors if states and regional groups fail to build such lines. The law was passed partly in response to the 2003 blackout that crippled much of the Northeast.

The corridor designations may increase pressure on state regulators to grant permits to private industry to build new lines, as power companies have argued states have been slow to approve new lines under pressure from local opposition.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may intervene and approve a grid project if the new line is deemed necessary to satisfy national power needs if state authorities don't approve any construction after a year. Such approvals could, in theory, include the use of eminent domain law to compel private owners to sell their property.

"Designation of corridors is critical because it encourages stakeholders to look at electricity generation from a regional and national perspective, identify solutions, and take prompt action," the DoE's Ruggiero said.

-By Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9285; ian.talley@dowjones.com

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