WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) spearheaded a bipartisan letter requesting a hearing to better examine the decision to open three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s counties and portions of 10 states to new high capacity power corridors called the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC). Casey was joined by 13 of his Senate colleagues in sending the letter to the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM).
“Private citizens, elected officials, public utilities commissions, and groups representing historic, land, and environmental interests have filed petitions in opposition to DOE’s NIETC designation process,” the members wrote.
The members went on to write, “We strongly believe that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee must hold hearings and bring all pertinent information to bear on the broad implications of the NIETC.”
Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Department of Energy was given the authority to build a power line corridor in portions of 10 states and 220 congressional districts in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included new authority that allows the Department of Energy (DOE) to designate critical congestion areas for electricity and further give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the power to over rule state transmission line siting process. In Pennsylvania alone, the DOE designated 52 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties as part of the NIETC.
Before and after the DOE decision, Senator Casey has expressed his opposition to the plan. During the markup of the 2007 Farm Bill, Senator Casey introduced an amendment that would have prohibited the use of eminent domain in placing electric transmission towers on vital agriculture lands.
Senator Casey has met with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and written two letters expressing his opposition to the Department of Energy’s final decision to build the NIETC through 52 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. During their meeting and in correspondence, Senator Casey also urged the Department to conduct more public outreach. And in January, Senator Casey held his own public meeting on the power lines issue in Harrisburg.
In October 2007, Senator Casey met with Assistant Secretary of Energy Kevin Kolevar to discuss the corridor. Senator Casey also met with and has corresponded with Joseph Kelliher, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, a key figure involved with developing the corridor.
Signatories to the letter include: Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), George Voinovich (R-OH), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Warner (R-VA), Joe Biden (D-DE), Jim Webb (D-VA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Tom Carper (D-DE).
Full text of the letter is below:
Dear Chairman Bingaman and Ranking Member Domenici:
The energy bill recently approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives makes important advances for our nation’s energy independence and security with increased efficiency and alternative energy development. We are concerned, however, that the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC) program authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and implemented by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) does not fully take into account other important options to our national grid such as investments in advanced electrical grid technologies, local generation of clean alternatives, and energy efficiency.
When Congress authorized Section 1221 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, its intent was not to include such large swaths of land as were recently designated by DOE. Rather, the purpose was to ensure the grid’s reliability to prevent potential blackouts in heavily congested regions. Only recently have the impacts become evident with DOE’s final designation of the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest Corridors, which include portions of ten states, 220 congressional districts, and affect more than 72 million people.
Broad state and local opposition has arisen, in part, because some assert that DOE has failed to implement the NIETC program in accordance with the statutory requirements of Section 1221 to consult with states prior to designation, assess and evaluate transmission needs and non-transmission alternatives, and comply with existing federal laws protecting environmental quality and public lands. In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued a NIETC ruling that reverses long-standing policy and allows federal preemption of the states’ transmission siting authority within the designated Corridors.
Despite receiving more than 2,000 comments of concern, DOE published its final designation of the two Corridors, covering over 116,000 square miles, on October 5, 2007 with only minor changes to the draft proposals. Private citizens, elected officials, public utilities commissions, and groups representing historic, land, and environmental interests have filed petitions in opposition to DOE’s NIETC designation process. On December 5, 2007, DOE agreed to reconsider these comments. However, they did not stay the implementation of the program to allow for this substantive review.
In order to avoid continued conflict and adverse consequences, we urge you to take timely action to allow full consideration of the significant national and state implications of the NIETC program. Congressional oversight is needed now because many of the ten designated states currently have applicable transmission projects pending before their public utility commissions with less than a year for final action before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may intervene. We strongly believe that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee must hold hearings and bring all pertinent information to bear on the broad implications of the NIETC.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our request. We cannot overstate the importance of the impact of the NIETC program on our constituents and states.
Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA)
Arlen Specter (R-PA)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
George Voinovich (R-OH)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
John Warner (R-VA)
Joe Biden (D-DE)
Jim Webb (D-VA)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Tom Carper (D-DE).