25 Mar 2011, 2:38pm
Latest Forest News Tramps and Thieves
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Gas pipeline company blasted for its role in purchasing Idaho grazing leases

By Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter, March 24, 2011 [here]

To say that El Paso Western Pipeline Group President Jim Cleary was met with an unfriendly welcome at the Idaho Capitol Wednesday might be an understatement.

Cleary, whose entity is building the Ruby gas pipeline that will run underground from southwestern Wyoming to northwestern Nevada, stood before lawmakers Wednesday to discuss his company’s agreement with the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), an environmental group characterized as “domestic terrorists” by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.

The agreement — a settlement of a lawsuit WWP filed over the construction project — forces El Paso to pay $15 million through a 10-year time span to the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund. The fund is intended to be used solely conservation efforts, but several lawmakers on the House and Senate resource committees inferred that the money and the partnership are being used to force ranchers out of business by buying up federal grazing permits.

The intriguing thing is that the project doesn’t even touch Idaho soil; it runs through northern Utah. The settlement allows for the fund to conduct conservation activities in the five southern Idaho counties because they are adjacent to counties where pipeline construction is taking place.

It is also interesting that — as noted by Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby — El Paso is already required to restore the disturbed lands once construction is completed. Wood questioned the need for the conservation fund if mitigation is already taking place in affected areas. Cleary said that WWP was concerned with animals and plants that inhabit the area might be adversely affected by construction and that the fund will help soften the blow to native species.

The fund is prohibited from using litigation — or threats of it — to engage in conservation efforts, but lawmakers are skeptical there isn’t some tag-teaming going on between WWP and the fund over grazing permits. …

Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakely, was one of the most outspoken critics of Leary, El Paso, and the $15 million fund. Bedke said that the by working out a deal with WWP, El Paso sacrificed the interests of Idaho. “You got yours and we didn’t get ours here,” said Bedke. “You had the ability to cut your deal, and the rest of us were left to twist here.”

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, echoed Bedke’s sentiments. “That land is completely out of production now,” said Siddoway.

Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, didn’t mince words when it came her turn to speak. “You dodged a bullet, but you funded the firing squad that’s coming for the rest of us,” said Barrett, saying that El Paso got everything it wanted from the deal. … [more]



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