Co-ops Back Rights-of-Way Reform

Electric cooperatives are championing legislation in the House of Representatives that will add a dose of common sense to rights-of-way rules on federal lands and help ensure the reliability of the grid.

NRECA is again backing a bill to streamline agency federal land management practices so co-ops can maintain rights of way. (Photo By: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

NRECA is again backing a bill to streamline agency federal land management practices so co-ops can maintain rights of way. (Photo By: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In a June 19 letter, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson urged House members to back H.R. 1873, the Electricity Reliability and Protection Act, sponsored by Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. The bill is likely come up for a floor vote this week.

"The bill allows sensible procedures that would cut through federal bureaucratic red tape and reduce delays that currently impede our ability to adequately manage dangerous vegetation overgrowth in existing utility rights of way," Matheson wrote.

Under H.R. 1873, utilities could receive preapproval from federal agencies to remove trees that could affect transmission line rights of way, instead of waiting for authorization.

A provision in the legislation shifts firefighting liability away from the co-op if agencies such as the Forest Service deny permission to manage the vegetation, and there is damage due to fire, for example.

"This common-sense legislation provides opportunities for electric cooperatives to better enhance safety and ensure the delivery of affordable, reliable electricity to their members," Matheson wrote.

Right-of-way management of federal lands, with red tape at the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies, has been at the top of the problem list for co-ops in the West.

It has gained more attention as dry conditions have turned some areas into possible tinderboxes, where a falling tree can spark a wildfire and destroy poles and power lines.

NRECA has spotlighted the bill at past Legislative Conferences. Several co-op managers have testified on Capitol Hill in support of the reform, saying in one case an Oregon co-op waited for nearly two years and incurred $87,000 in expenses to get approval to replace a 1.3-mile section of deteriorating line.

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