The U.S. Deparment of Energy designated two power line corridors earlier this month, to the dismay of environmentalists and preservationists.
There are 55 national parks and 14 heritage areas within the Mid-Atlantic National Interest Electricity Transmission Corridor (NIETC), which the agency approved on Oct. 2. That area also has African-American historic sites, numerous scenic rivers and byways, and the nation's greatest concentration of Civil War battlefields. The other corridor, the Southwest Area Corridor, passes from Arizona to California.
"The goal is simple–to keep reliable supplies of electric energy flowing to all Americans," Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said in an Oct. 2 statement. "By designating these National Corridors, we are encouraging stakeholders in these regions to identify solutions and take prompt action."
Environmental groups say the move, which will provide coal-based energy to the Northeast, has sparked debate in Congress.
"The final decision by the DOE has just finally focused the attention of the policy makers that something is happening that they had no awareness of," says Christopher Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council of Virginia. "It's a big deal, but it's not the end of the debate. In a weird sort of way, it's helping focus people's attention on the issue."
In a related move yesterday, a major power-grid operator approved the Delaware section of the 230-mile Mid-Atlantic corridor, leaving the final decision to the state. PJM Interconnection's Oct. 17 approval means that Pepco must now seek approval for its line from Delaware in addition to Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.
"In trying to solve the problem of energy congestion, Congress gave the Department of Energy extraordinary authority to override state processes and avoid environmental review to locate transmission lines," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a statement. "The areas involved are among the most historic landscapes in America and a unique part of the heritage of all Americans. It's impossible to assess the potential damage of this extremely ill-conceived legislation."