Matheson: New Infrastructure Executive Order Paves Way for Enhanced Reliability, Reduced Wildfire Risk

ARLINGTON, Va. – NRECA CEO Jim Matheson today issued the following statement after President Trump announced a new infrastructure executive order that will expedite the permitting process for power line right of way maintenance on federal lands.

“Today’s announcement paves the way for electric co-ops to enhance system reliability and reduce wildfire risk by improving access to maintain and upgrade electric systems located on federal lands,” Matheson said. “Permitting delays often pose long-term safety and reliability challenges for electric co-ops that need approval to conduct vegetation management and power line maintenance on federal lands.  By reducing bureaucratic red tape, today’s announcement helps prevent permitting delays and promotes the safety and reliability of our power supply.”

The new infrastructure executive order includes language directing the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce to collaborate on the development of a master agreement that expedites renewals to federal land rights of way to enable maintenance and vegetation management.

Electric cooperatives constantly work to improve system reliability, including on federal land. But federal permitting delays pose serious restrictions. For example, Benton Rural Electric Association (BREA) in Prosser, Washington had a Special Use Permit that allowed them right of way access through federal land to prevent danger trees from contacting the co-ops’ power lines. Despite submitting an application for renewal in August 2015, BREA’s permit expired that December. USFS officials took 15 months to review the renewal application and propose that the co-op pay for an expensive new environmental assessment. Benton REA is currently operating under a temporary permit but is still seeking a resolution for the long-term permit issue.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape. As local businesses built by the consumers they serve, electric cooperatives have meaningful ties to rural America and invest $12 billion annually in their communities.