Ruling means delay in installation of high-voltage electricity lines

The federal energy department's plans to speed the placement of high-voltage transmission lines around the country has hit a roadblock - a new court ruling.

Energy officials started cooking up what they call "national interest electric transmission corridors" six years ago. That's when Congress proposed a law to create a fast-track process that would direct more electricity to big cities.

Some corridors would cut through the Southwest United States, including California's Mojave Desert. Almost immediately, environmental groups and state energy authorities objected.

The Wilderness Society and other activists said that federal environmental laws require more scrutiny when the government designates large swaths of land for construction. States including California objected that the federal Department of Energy didn't consult with local authorities.

More than a dozen separate lawsuits about these fast-track transmission corridors have been making their way through courts. Now a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the environmentalists and the states.

The ruling means the energy department must back up and re-start studies about which cities need the most power – and which lands need the most protection.

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