Tuesday, August 31, 2010

El Paso opens Pandora’s Box in deal with environmental groups

VERNAL, Utah - Uintah County is the latest government unit to join in opposing a $20 million agreement between energy company El Paso Corp. and two conservation groups.
“There’s nothing secret about it, it’s an agreement between two private parties,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project conservation group.
The other group, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, is aligned with Marvel’s group in the effort to preserve wildlife habitat along the pipeline corridor.
Marvel told the Vernal Express that the partnership evolved from El Paso’s 680-mile Ruby Pipeline Project, which is building the Ruby natural gas pipeline from Wyoming to Oregon.
Uintah County has joined with a dozen counties from Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon in opposition to the conservation agreement. The group calls themselves the Multi-County Pipeline Coalition and commissioners question the wisdom of paying-off conservation groups in order to do business on federal lands.
“We oppose the precedent of paying private groups not to sue,” said Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, “not the pipeline itself.”
“The money will be used by the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund to mitigate the negative effects of construction on 14,000 acres of federal land,” said Marvel.
But, county commissioners allege that the agreement is really a concerted effort to eliminate livestock grazing on public lands.
At issue is the voluntary relinquishment of grazing permits by stockmen to develop wildlife conservation easements in the path of the pipeline.
“It’s not a buyout to get rid of grazing on public land, but, if it was - it wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Marvel said.
His comments quickly raise the ire of stockmen who use public lands.
Opponents of the agreement, who met in Salt Lake City on Aug. 9, dispute Marvel’s comments, saying the agreement presents a bad precedent.
“We’re against converting livestock grazing units to wildlife (conservation easements),” said McKee.

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