Southern Utah News Articles
Garkane's CEO Carl Albrecht testifies before Congress
The Endangered Species Act, hailed for saving bald eagles and other majestic animals, impacts people, too, and not always in a good way. That’s the message Carl Albrecht brought to Capital Hill on December 12 at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on how “mega” settlements reached under the law can negatively affect local economies and private property owners.
“Garkane and other rural electric cooperatives across the nation believe that, in this the 40th year of the act, we must look at some type of reform to alleviate the ever-escalating economic burden being placed on the backs of the few,” Albrecht told the committee.
The inflexibility of the law hit home when Garkane acquired the right of way to build a power line primarily on private property and state-owned lands. A small portion of the line was on Bureau of Land Management property. “We were abruptly ordered to stop construction when it was determined that two acres of Utah prairie dog habitat were within a 350-foot buffer of the project’s right of way,” Albrecht said.
Work on the co-op line was delayed for nine months while consultants for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service completed a survey, paid for by Garkane members. To restart the project, Garkane agreed to pay $20,000 to the National Wildlife Defense Fund and hired a biologist to monitor all the work within 350 feet of the habitat, Albrecht said.
But there was more to come. A sage grouse strutting ground had been identified along the most economical alternative route for the transmission line. “Last month as part of the construction of a transmission line, which took us seven years and $2 million to permit, we were required to fly in, by helicopter, seven power poles to locations that were within yards of an existing public access road,” Albrecht said.
Requiring poles to be set with a helicopter meant an additional single-day expense of more than $150,000 for Garkane, he said. “And recognize this all takes place while private landowners can obtain permits to kill prairie dogs on their land and sage grouse are hunted and killed by sportsmen in Utah,” said Albrecht.
Under questioning by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Albrecht underscored the cost of $624,000, or an extra $52.22 per member, for the past three years of the inflexible interpretation of the law on co-op members in rural economies. “That’s real money for families in southern Utah,” Albrecht said. “Any increase in the power bill is a lot of money.”
While the committee is expected to further study the impacts of the act next year, Albrecht urged the lawmakers to inject some common sense into how it is carried out. “I believe it’s time we look back at what it means to have electricity in our homes, and other things that make this nation great, and return to a sense of reason and a more rational approach to the Endangered Species Act,” he said.