Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2017

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

House Votes to Weaken Environmental Protections for Power Line Rights-of-way

Legislation Cuts Public Input, Scientific Reviews

WASHINGTON— The House of Representatives today approved legislation that would weaken environmental laws for managing public lands under power lines and other rights-of-way. 

These lands must be managed to minimize the risks of wildfires caused by electrical wires. But rights-of-way encompass millions of acres of public lands and can fragment wildlife habitat and spread invasive species if not managed properly.

The Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), requires a categorical exclusion for all vegetation-management projects, eliminating public input and scientific review of alternatives.

“This bill would kill innovative efforts to protect millions of acres of wildlife habitat from dangerous herbicides,” said Brett Hart, government affairs director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rather than fully funding agencies so they can be good stewards of our public lands, Republicans again moved to gut our core environmental laws. Preventing electrical fires is important, but we can do it in ways that preserve habitat and public participation in government decisions.”

Federal regulations require that land under electrical transmission lines be free of large trees and other tall vegetation to prevent wildfires from starting. Often the cheapest method is to mow under the lines and use large amounts of herbicides to prevent vegetation growth.

Innovative programs are now turning rights-of-way into habitat for rare animals and plants and decreasing threats to wildlife. But LaMalfa’s bill categorically excludes a review of alternatives, including ways to reduce harmful herbicides, which means such beneficial approaches would not be considered.   

“There’s a right way and a cheap way to manage these transmission line rights-of-way. This is not the right way to do it,” said Hartl.

Another provision in the bill would remove liability for wildfires from the electrical utilities, forcing the public to bear the total cost of wildfire suppression.

In the first four months of the 115th Congress, Republicans have introduced more than 40 bills that attack public lands, weaken environmental safeguards on those lands or turn over control to states and local governments. These attacks come despite the fact that the vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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