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County planners approve 'energy overlay zone'

Sun Advocate associate editor

In a move intended to give local government more clout in setting the course of energy development on public lands, the county planning commission on Tuesday voted to recommend an amendment to the master plan to call most of the territory in its borders an "energy zone."

The new zone would overlay existing land use zones as a way of emphasizing that the area is open for energy extraction as well as other activities.

Concept now goes to the county commission for final approval. That approval seems likely, in that all three county commissioners were present at the planning meeting and voiced no misgivings.

The energy zone would apply only to land owned by the public and administrered by the federal or state governments. Large private tracts such as ranches and hunting reserves would not be included.

The impetus for the new zone is the perception that, according to the planning document's wording, "...the Federal Government and Non-Governmental Groups have been supporting single uses on public lands, and in many cases this action inhibits access to use our multiple resources..."

The Carbon County move follows a similar master planning change made by Uintah County in creating the Uintah Basin Energy Zone. The Carbon plan would join that zone.

The Carbon commission would then petition the state legislature to approve the revised master plan.

"You would have some leverage because it is a plan, not an ordinance, and the muscle is found in federal law," commented J. Mark Ward, a senior policy analyst with the Utah Association of Counties.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act says that agencies such as the BLM and Forest Service must take local plans into account when making land use decisions.

Besides fossil fuels, the county has identified zones for wind and solar energy.

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