NRECA is asking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to consider the financial impacts to low-income communities while it contemplates changes to greater sage-grouse conservation plans.
“The greater sage-grouse’s vast stomping grounds include a large number of rural, persistent-poverty areas served by electric cooperatives,” said Elise Laarman, NRECA issue adviser for environmental regulatory affairs.
“We urge the BLM in their early resource management planning to take into account any potential financial harm posed to these rural communities.”
NRECA made this recommendation and several others in comments to the BLM on Feb. 8. The agency is preparing an environmental impact statement and land-use amendments to bolster habitat for the greater sage-grouse. The species is a gray-and-brown-speckled, ground-dwelling bird that roams parts of 11 Western states.
Laarman said electric co-ops have long supported conservation measures for the species, but more stringent land-use rules from the BLM could hurt low-income residents because utilities would be forced to raise rates to recover the costs of compliance.
“If the BLM decides to broadly implement more onerous requirements, co-ops would shoulder additional expenses that would ultimately be directly felt by our consumer-members,” she said.
NRECA also asked the BLM to consult existing state land-use plans, give credit for the electric industry’s current best practices for land management and clarify specifications for the use of buffers around leks, the open areas where sage-grouses gather during spring mating rituals.
Electric co-ops serve more than 70,000 square miles of protected range for the greater sage-grouse, including nearly 54% of areas designated as “priority areas for conservation” by states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A robust network of conservation plans supported by electric co-ops and other stakeholders over the years has precluded the need to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act. But the BLM is taking a new look at the species as aridness and temperatures in its range have become more extreme.
“Our goal aligns with the BLM’s to adequately conserve the sage-grouse and preclude the need for an ESA listing, but we emphasize the need for cost-effective conservation and offer many ways to do that,” said Laarman.
“We welcome continued engagement with the BLM to help identify and minimize any negative effects should new land-use plans be offered.”