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Rule Proposed For Regulating Utility Power Lines And Equipment On Federal Lands

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Federal agencies are proposing a new rule outlining if and when power companies can clear vegetation surrounding their equipment in federally owned forests.

The proposed rule applies to a 2017 law aimed at streamlining the permitting process so utilities could maintain their power lines and transmission equipment faster. Lawmakers hoped this would decrease the chances of power lines sparking a wildfire.

The rule sets deadlines for the National Forest Service to review utility companies' application to maintain their equipment on federal lands. It also defines what sort of vegetation — like dead trees and bushes — companies could remove from rights-of-way.

California Congressman Doug LaMalfa sponsored the bill.

“My bill moved in the direction of trying to make it a simpler process to get out there and get the work done without unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks,” LaMalfa told JPR. “We didn’t get to do as much as we wanted to do in the bill, but it’s progress.”

LaMalfa says it got some pushback from environmental groups.

“There will be those that ask, ‘Well, does that mean you guys are going to clear cut?’” LaMalfa says. “No, it doesn’t mean clear-cutting. It doesn’t mean a massive opportunity for the big timber to go out and cut all the trees.”

The public can comment on the proposed rule until November 25th. The Forest Service will publish a final rule by next spring.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.