Conservation proposal overburdens co-ops, risks grid reliability

A proposal to expand federal conservation authority over public land should be withdrawn because it would disproportionately burden rural electric cooperatives while threatening grid reliability, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) told the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

“This proposed rule could potentially remove large swaths of public lands from uses such as utility rights of way, mineral and natural gas development, and food production,” said Megan Olmstead, NRECA regulatory affairs director. “It could have far-reaching impacts on electric co-ops across the nation and electric reliability in terms of natural gas and coal availability and siting transmission, generation and distribution infrastructure on public lands.”

In comments filed with BLM, NRECA emphasized the agency’s failure during its rulemaking to conduct appropriate administrative due diligence or to engage with stakeholders as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. As a result, the proposal fails to address the many significant challenges that co-ops would face should the current draft be finalized.

NRECA also explained how the remote nature of co-ops’ service territories requires more special use authorizations, easements and rights of way across public lands than other electric utilities.

“Increased planning, permitting, access, mitigation, fuel supply and vegetation management requirements and costs that result from this proposal could jeopardize the reliability and affordability of electric service throughout [co-op] territories, which include 92% of the nation’s persistent poverty counties,” Olmstead said. “NRECA urges BLM to withdraw this proposed rule.”

NRECA has joined a coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose the BLM proposal.