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Editorial: BLM’s SunZia stance hurts N.M., U.S. security

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What will it take to get the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s attention?

If national security concerns, the singular mission of the White Sands Missile Range and the potential for thousands of New Mexico jobs to be lost can’t impress bureaucrats, one wonders what can.

Coming down to the wire on a final decision on the controversial SunZia transmission line that would cross the range’s northern extension, the BLM appears to have turned a deaf ear to pleas from the U.S. Department of Defense and concerns raised by some members of the New Mexico congressional delegation and conservationists.

While the U.S. Army is not opposed to the project itself, it is opposed to the alignment the BLM endorsed in its final environmental impact statement in June. The draft EIS failed to address the DOD’s concerns, so last week the Army “officially” objected.

The DOD and the Army say a 45-mile section of the proposed 500-mile, high-voltage transmission system will negatively impact the range where highly specialized military tests are conducted. White Sands has the only ground-to-infinity unrestricted air space in the U.S. with the exception of the air space over the White House. It is invaluable to this country’s ability to test systems and protect itself. Crossing could well put the range in jeopardy in the next Base Realignment and Closure round in 2015. “If the bulk power transmission line is constructed along the selected route, it would preclude our capability to fully test the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Architecture and other weapons systems under realistic threat environments,” DOD Acting Deputy Undersecretary John Conger wrote the BLM.

And for what?

In addition to potentially crippling national security concerns, there are questions about the ability of the $1 billion system to transport renewable energy from wind and solar farms in Lincoln County to southeastern Arizona. And then there are serious questions about whether SunZia has exaggerated the number of jobs it will create as well as the uncertainty of the electricity market in Western states. SunZia has touted it will create 24,000 jobs over four years, but opponents say it’s more like 5,600 over 20-30 years.

Balance those questions against the potential job losses – 9,300 – and the hit to the state’s economy – estimated $834 million annually – if White Sands were to close up shop in New Mexico.

SunZia says if it doesn’t get its way, the project likely will be dead. Given the serious issues at hand, perhaps it should be. It’s not the job of government to make a business venture pan out at the expense of thousands of jobs and national security in a dangerous world.

The BLM should get its head out of the sand and listen to reason, and New Mexico’s delegation should make it loud and clear that needs to happen.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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