Dave Markham, CEO of Central Electric Cooperative in Redmond, voiced criticism of Bureau of Land Management policies in testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Markham spoke at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing entitled “Keeping the Lights On and Reducing Catastrophic Forest Fire Risk: Proper Management of Electricity Rights of Way on Federal Lands.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., introduced Markham at the haring, the purpose of which was to examine challenges faced by rural electric utilities that have transmission and distribution lines on federal land.
These utilities, which are often the only provider in rural coverage areas that can span tens of thousands of square miles, are negatively impacted by a lack of federal forest management that leads to catastrophic wildfires that can destroy transmission lines and disrupt service to rural homes and businesses.
The hearing also focused on delays by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service on renewing permits for power lines across federal lands that deliver electricity to rural Oregon.
“Just like it shouldn’t take several years to put together a timber sale, it also shouldn’t take several years for the BLM or Forest Service to renew an existing right of way for a transmission line. And when federal agencies fail to act, adjacent private land owners, utilities, and subsequently their customers are the ones that suffer,” Walden said as he introduced Markham.
Markham discussed examples of burdensome BLM delays on electricity rights of way and cited the agency’s sage grouse proposal that could bankrupt utilities in Eastern Oregon.
“While co-ops fully understand the need to protect the sage grouse, measures presented in the (BLM’s sage grouse proposal) would have severe consequences for several Oregon cooperatives,” Markham said. “It is beyond the time that our federal land managers work collaboratively with electric co-ops to develop common sense reform to their current practices.”