In a remarkable move towards saving natural habitats and promoting clean energy, four government agencies – the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the Department of Energy – have agreed to revise a Bush era project known as the West-wide Energy Corridor.  The original plan called for building energy corridors connecting fossil fuel based power plants to the West coast energy grid, without any consideration of renewable energy sources in the vicinity.  The envisioned web of corridors also ran through national parks and wilderness areas, posing serious threats to wildlife and their habitats.

The term “energy corridor” refers to the pipelines and other forms of apparatus used to transmit oil, gas and hydrogen, as well as their distribution facilities.  As originally planned, they would have ranged in size, but on average they would have been about 3500 feet wide.  Some were planned to be as wide as five miles, and none would have included cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar.  These corridors would have covered more than 6,000 miles, running through the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, and the Snake River-Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho, to name just a few of the lands that will now, hopefully, be preserved.

The settlement agreement doesn’t guarantee that these areas will be safe from industrialization or that the corridor will only be used to transmit renewable forms of energy.  Rather, it says that the plan will be reevaluated and revised to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and facilitate the development of renewable energy projects.  (Notably, it also requires the government to pay $30,000 in attorneys fees and costs to the conservation groups that filed the suit.)  Though this certainly sounds hopeful, the deadline for the revised plan is one year from the day the court approves the settlement, meaning that it could potentially be unveiled under a different federal administration and that the good intentions behind this agreement could be thwarted by a very different government than the one that negotiated it.

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