Contact: Norm "Mick" Meader, Co-Chair, Cascabel Working Group
(520) 323-0092 /

SunZia Environmental Impact Statement Avoids Issues, Harms Arizona's Heritage

Cascabel, Arizona − June 19, 2013. On June 14, 2013, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. This project involves the construction of two 500-kilovolt lines between central New Mexico and southeast Phoenix, purportedly to deliver predominantly wind-generated electricity to Arizona and California.

The BLM received ~900 comment letters on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) critical of the project, demonstrating the immense concern that it has generated. In responding to these letters, however, the BLM has summarily dismissed some of the most substantive and critical comments that reviewers made instead of using them to strengthen and correct the DEIS. This is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, which legally governs this process.

"The scale of the dismissal of substantive comments to the SunZia Draft Environmental Impact Statement is stunning," says Mick Meader of the Cascabel Working Group. "We were waiting to see if the BLM would honor and incorporate them in the Final EIS to reduce legal challenges, but they have not done so."

"The BLM has advanced this project without realistically or honestly assessing its actual use, need, or feasibility in order to expedite a wishful policy. The BLM instead employs a highly idealized scenario for SunZia's use that does not fully consider future overall power needs in the Southwest, nor the project proponent's underlying intentions. In doing so, the BLM is sacrificing an irreplaceable Arizona environmental gem that governmental agencies − including the BLM itself − corporations, public interest groups, and individuals have worked for more than three decades to protect."

The chosen route crosses the environmentally sensitive San Pedro Valley about 10 miles north of Benson and then follows the west side of the river northward for 45 miles. The valley is the principal migration corridor for birds in the Southwest and hosts the greatest mammal diversity in North America. Only the Colorado and Rio Grande River corridors approach its biological richness. The alternative route − crossing the Galiuro Mountains between the Aravaipa and Galiuro Mountains Wildernesses − is equally sensitive and no more of a solution.

Other notable impacts occur in Pima County, where SunZia would bisect three ranches acquired for open space and conservation at a cost of nearly $20 million. These are part of the county's highly respected Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and the centerpiece of its investments in the San Pedro Valley. This would be a tremendous blow to the county's conservation efforts, compounded by evermore utilities that the corridor would attract.

The project is also incompletely conceived, having originally been proposed by the SouthWestern Power Group to serve its permitted but not-yet-constructed Bowie, Arizona 1,000-MW natural gas-fired power plant. To complete the transfer of New Mexico power to California, SunZia would rob Arizona utilities and ratepayers of $400 million of new transmission capacity. This capacity is being built to serve Arizonans and to develop our state's solar potential, not to subsidize out-of-state interests.

We can find better ways to meet future energy needs and renewable energy ideals than by making these kinds of extraordinary sacrifices and blunders. The federal government has an obligation to evaluate the project based on how utilities will actually use it, not on the proponent's sales pitch or the wishful thinking of Obama administration policymakers. Without this, the process lacks integrity and thwarts informed public engagement.

The Cascabel Working Group works to educate citizens about the Middle San Pedro River Valley, advocating for the protection of the valley's environment, culture, and traditional land uses. Additional information about the Cascabel Working Group is available at