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Showing posts with the label BLM

First Solar Project Displaces Over 160 Desert Tortoises

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First Solar has displaced at least 161 adult and juvenile desert tortoises to make way for its Silver State South Solar project in Nevada, as of August 2015, according to documents provided by the Department of Interior.  Initial information indicates several tortoises relocated from the project site have already died, possibly as a result of being forced into unfamiliar ranges.  First Solar is clearing over 3.7 square miles of intact desert habitat for the project after the company ignored requests to consider less destructive locations.  Underscoring its interest in profit over the environment, the company has even funded attacks on rooftop solar - a more sustainable alternative to meeting our renewable energy needs that First Solar sees as a threat to its bulldozer-led approach.

Translocation Results Uneven

Although the 161 desert tortoises found on the Silver State South project site were moved to the surrounding desert before bulldozers leveled the area for solar panels, at least …

Renewable Energy Legislation Would Slash Environmental Protection

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The Wilderness Society is endorsing a bill that would encourage more corporate development of public lands, and allow Washington to undermine the National Environmental Police Act (NEPA).  The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act ( S. 1407, H.R. 2663) would require the Department of Interior to identify priority and "variance" development areas for wind and geothermal energy, adding to the controversial Solar Energy Zones and variance lands established in 2012.  The bill would not require "exclusion areas," would add staffing to speed up renewable energy permitting, and would allow Washington to short-circuit environmental review.

More of the Same...
Landscape-level planning could ostensibly protect desert wildlands, but programmatic energy development plans have shown significant deference to industry and offer environmental shortcuts for industry to bulldoze significant swaths of intact habitat.  If you want to imagine what will happen if the Public Land R…

Are You Kidding?: Interior Set to Approve Project Near Soda Mountain

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The Department of Interior released its final environmental impact statement for Bechtel's Soda Mountain Solar project and appears to abandon previous "landscape-level" planning.  The document signals imminent approval for the nearly three square mile project that could ironically make it more difficult for desert bighorn sheep to adapt to climate change and imperil an endangered desert fish, ignoring alternative locations for the solar panels on rooftops or already-disturbed lands.

According to the environmental review, the desert habitat that will be destroyed to make way for the Soda Mountain Solar project currently hosts as many as 142 different species of native plants, 13 reptile species, and 15 mammal species, including three species of bats that forage on the site.  Fifty-one different bird species have been documented using the habitat, including burrowing owls.  Biologists found 50 recently active owl burrows on the project site.


Confidence Rests on Dangerous A…

BrightSource Cancels Hidden Hills, But Threats Loom

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The Pahrump Valley, a vast stretch of creosote, yucca and Joshua tree that unfolds as you descend from the Spring Mountains, remains the target of extensive development proposals despite a recent decision to terminate a solar power tower project here.  BrightSource Energy this week cancelled its proposal to build the destructive Hidden Hills solar power tower project on the California side of the Pahrump Valley.  The project would have replaced desert habitat with nearly 5 square miles of giant heliostat mirrors and two 750-tall towers that would have burned birds and insects, as is the case with the Ivanpah Solar and Crescent Dunes power tower projects.  Hidden Hills also would have pumped hundreds of millions of gallons of groundwater over its construction and operational lifetime from an already-overdrafted basin, threatening wildlife that depend on nearby natural springs.  So it is indeed a relief that the project has been withdrawn.

Towers May Still Loom on the Horizon

In comments…

Public Lands Debate Hijacked by Extremists in Nevada

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At the urging of a small but vocal group of extremists, the Nevada legislature is considering an unconstitutional bill that would take public lands currently managed by the Federal government and hand them over to private interests for grazing, logging and mining (Assembly Bill 408).  Cliven Bundy, whose dangerous supporters aimed semi-automatic rifles at law enforcement officers, characterizes the bill as a "freedom and liberty thing," according to the Los Angeles Times.  They suggest that the Federal government limits public access to public land in Nevada, but they apparently define "freedom" as giving industry free reign to destroy the desert.

Southern Nevada is blessed with some beautiful desert wildlands.  Drive in any direction from Las Vegas and you'll find a corner of desert where you can enjoy solitude, the smell of creosote, and a beautiful landscape.  Contrary to what Bundy would like me to believe, I have never felt fenced out.   I have camped and …

West Mojave Plan Would Expand OHV Route Network

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in February released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the West Mojave Plan that would expand the open route network for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use and limit livestock grazing.  Despite concerns that an earlier iteration of the plan's OHV route network would have a significant adverse effect on wildlife, this draft proposes to significantly expand authorized OHV access to 10,428 miles of routes.  For the sake of comparison, the City of Los Angeles alone has about 6,500 miles of paved roads.
The last iteration of the West Mojave Plan was finalized in 2006 and proposed to designate 5,098 miles of open routes, but a Federal judge ordered the BLM to revise the plan.  The court ruled that the original plan lacked sufficient analysis of the effects of OHV use and grazing on wildlife, and asked the BLM to evaluate alternative OHV route networks that would minimize conflict and avoid considerable adverse effects on soil, wild…

DRECP: Is the New Approach a Threat or Opportunity?

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The Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT) agencies announced this week that they would adopt a phased approach to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) in response to widespread concern about the proposed endangered species permitting mechanism and conflict with county land use plans.   Under this approach, the more contentious aspects of the DRECP will be further refined after additional consultation with the counties and rolled out at a later date.

The first phase will amend the land use planning for Federal lands in the California desert, establishing both conservation and development focus areas.  The second phase will establish development areas on private lands as well as the streamlined permitting process for renewable energy projects under State and Federal Endangered Species Acts.  Reactions to the phased approach range from concern to relief.

Will Desert Conservation Move Forward?

How well the first phase is received will depend largely on whether or not the B…

Soda Mountain: A Test of Landscape Level Planning

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The Bureau of Land Management is expected to conclude its environmental review of the Soda Mountain Solar project - one of the most contentious utility-scale solar projects currently being reviewed for construction on public lands - any day now.  The release of the final environmental impact statement for the Soda Mountain Solar project is overdue, almost certainly a result of inter-agency wrangling following the publication of the draft environmental analysis that underplayed the potential impact of the project on natural springs critical to desert wildlife, and the area's potential to restore habitat connectivity for bighorn sheep.  Also at stake is whether or not the BLM will ignore landscape-level planning that has identified the proposed solar project site as critical for wildlife.


Wildlife Crossing or Industrial Zone?

The Department of Interior has pursued a “landscape-scale approach to identify and facilitate investment in key conservation priorities in a region” (Secretar…

Tortoise Toll Mounts at Nevada Solar Project

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First Solar's Silver State South project has displaced over 152 desert tortoises, according to data obtained by Basin and Range Watch, and this toll is expected to rise since construction crews have not yet finished bulldozing the threatened animal's habitat.  The Silver State South solar project is being built just east of Primm, Nevada on 3.7 square miles of intact Mojave Desert habitat that biologists have determined to be a key corridor for the desert tortoise - facilitating genetic flow for the species that is important for its survival in the face of many anthropogenic threats, including climate change.

Of the 152 tortoises displaced, 63 are adult and 89 are juvenile, indicating that First Solar chose a bad location for its solar project.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, the project is expected to displace as many as 115 adult desert tortoises, and the Department of Interior will likely have to halt construction and re-evaluate impacts…

Silurian Valley Spared by BLM

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If you have ever been to the Silurian Valley, you know it is one of those grand places that inspires and beckons you to pull over, get out of your car, and hike.  After driving on Interstate 15 from Barstow, the Silurian Valley is a strong dose of tranquility, providing relief from the traffic, billboards and franchise restaurants of our Anthropocentric world and what Aldo Leopold called the "epidemic of geometry."  As you drive up the two-lane Death Valley Road,  you leave behind the sight of the small highway outpost of Baker and you are swallowed by the immensity of the Silurian Valley. It is just you and the narrow road dividing thousands of acres of wilderness on either side.  This week, Jim Kenna, the State Director for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California, spared this place for future generations to experience when he rejected plans by Spain-based Iberdrola to build the Aurora Solar project.

Kenna's decision represents a significant milestone u…

Investigation Sheds Light on Industry Influence over Desert Policy

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The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Interior released a report this month confirming that a senior Obama administration official with cozy ties to the renewable energy industry pressured subordinates to ignore environmental concerns in favor of providing rubber-stamp approval to power plants.  The IG report focuses on the actions of Steve Black - who retired from Interior in 2013 and served as senior counselor to former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar  - because he dated a lobbyist for renewable energy company NextEra and also put his name forward to serve as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), all while continuing to manage the approval of renewable energy projects on public lands.  At the very least, Mr. Black's actions constitute the appearance of impropriety that undermines our ability to trust Interior leadership to manage public lands based on sound science rather than special interests.

As senior counselor to the Secretary of Interior, Black ha…

DRECP Spotlight: Conservation Designations

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My last couple of Spotlights focused on how the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan designates areas where large-scale renewable energy projects will be considered and fast-tracked, including development focus areas (DFAs), special analysis areas, and future assessment areas.  In an attempt to balance this destruction with conservation, the DRECP also identifies lands to be protected from various forms of destruction.  The types of DRECP conservation designations for lands in the California desert vary depending on whether the land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or private (non-federal).

BLM Conservation Designations

While the DRECP bestows conservation designations on some key BLM lands in the California desert,  the designations may not be very durable because they can be lifted in a future revision of a BLM land use plan.   This is particularly troubling because the projects built on DFAs will leave their mark on the landscape and ecosystem for genera…

DRECP: First Impressions

The draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) was released at the end of September, almost 34 years after the Department of Interior finalized its original plan for managing the vast and beautiful California Desert Conservation Area.  With nearly 8,000 pages and extensive reformulation of land use policies throughout 22 million acres of California, the DRECP will take a while to digest and formulate thorough comments.  This plan will shape the future of one of the largest intact ecosystems remaining in the lower 48 United States, so it will be worth the time to review and provide input.

By the Numbers - Energy Industrialization
3,146 square miles:  The number of square miles of "Development Focus Areas" (DFA)designated by Federal and State agencies in the preferred alternative where large-scale wind, solar, and geothermal energy development will be encouraged or fast-tracked.   Although it is important to note that the DRECP does not anticipate that every acre o…