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Utah counties seek pipeline grazing rights help

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LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- Local officials are trying to enlist Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to turn back a deal a pipeline company made with some environmental groups to buy up federal grazing leases along the route of a gas pipeline being built from Wyoming to Oregon.

"The governor has more clout," said Cache County Executive Lynn Lemon, who with officials of four other northern Utah counties is calling on Herbert to deal with El Paso Corp., builder of the 680-mile Ruby Pipeline.

Houston-based El Paso said it has no plan to nix an agreement that cleared opposition and appeals by Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

El Paso won't release the agreements for public scrutiny either, company spokesman Richard Wheatley said.

Western Watersheds Project has said the company pledged $20 million for land conservation and wildlife habitat improvement along the pipeline route. When the group revealed that some of the money will be used to buy grazing leases from willing sellers, ranchers and politicians in Utah and Nevada attacked the company and called for it to back out of the deal.

Herbert made no immediate commitment but "has been historically supportive of Utah ranchers and grazing rights, and he will continue that history of support," his spokeswoman Angie Welling told The Herald Journal of Logan this week.

The county leaders in Utah sent Herbert a letter asking "for your support in helping us to see that this does not become the catalyst that would end the cattle industry in the West through the elimination of grazing right permits." The local officials suggested Herbert could help by pushing to dissolve the settlement or parts of it.

Herbert told John Harja, director of the Governor's Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, "to keep an eye on the issue and work with all parties," Welling said.

The county leaders say they favor a tradition of multiple uses on public lands -- and that includes grazing and mining.

"The evidence shows that when you graze the land, your threat of wildfire decreases a lot," Lemon added.

Other environmental groups are trying to stop the pipeline project. The Center for Biological Diversity sought to halt construction at a federal appeals court in San Francisco. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined Sept. 2 to issue an injunction, although it didn't rule on the merits of the group's lawsuit.

The Center for Biological Diversity argues that the pipeline will cross more than 1,000 rivers and streams and harm a number of endangered fish species.

El Paso Corp.'s 42-inch-diameter pipeline will export gas from Opal in western Wyoming, crossing northern Utah and northern Nevada, before ending at Malin, Ore.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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