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Protest of BLM Solar Energy Programmatic EIS

Protest of BLM Solar Energy Programmatic EIS

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Published by westernlands
Protest filed by three public interest groups against industrial-scale solar development on public land
Protest filed by three public interest groups against industrial-scale solar development on public land

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Published by: westernlands on Aug 27, 2012
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ResearchResearchResearchResearch, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy to Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Public
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 PO BOX 95545 SEATTLE, WA 98145PO BOX 95545 SEATTLE, WA 98145PO BOX 95545 SEATTLE, WA 98145PO BOX 95545 SEATTLE, WA 98145 (206)325(206)325(206)325(206)325----3503350335033503WESTERNLANDS.ORGWESTERNLANDS.ORGWESTERNLANDS.ORGWESTERNLANDS.ORG
August 24, 2012BLM Director (210)Attention: Brenda WilliamsP.O. Box 71383Washington, DC 20024-1383
Protest of Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for SolarEnergy Development in Six Southwestern States and Associated ProposedBLM Resource Management Plan Amendments
Western Lands Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Solar Done Right protest the FinalProgrammatic Environmental Impact Statement (“FPEIS”) for Solar Energy Development in SixSouthwestern States and the associated Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendments.The FPEIS is deficient because it neglected to consider reasonable alternatives and failed toanalyze numerous impacts of solar energy plant development within several Solar Energy Zones.The BLM Director should refrain from reaching a decision regarding solar energy developmentand the proposed amendments until the deficiencies in the FPEIS are corrected with a secondsupplemental PEIS.The Western Lands Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, public-interest organization withapproximately 700 members across the United States that monitors federal land transactionsand public land policy across the West and beyond. Western Lands tracks land exchanges, sales,and conveyances of public land implemented by the land management agencies or proposed bymembers of Congress. Its mission is to keep public land public. Its involvement in the PEIS andrelated policy stems from its belief that, due to the utter transformation and likely permanentconversion of sites developed for industrial-scale solar generation, these projects result in thevirtual privatization of public lands.Basin and Range Watch is a group of volunteers who live in the deserts of Nevada and California,working to stop the destruction of their desert homeland. Industrial renewable energycompanies are seeking to develop millions of acres of unspoiled habitat in the region. Basin andRange Watch’s goal is to identify the problems of energy sprawl and find solutions that willpreserve our natural ecosystems and open spaces.
 
ResearchResearchResearchResearch, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy to Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Public
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Solar Done Right, with pending status as an unincorporated association in the State of California,is a coalition of public land activists, solar power and electrical engineering experts, biologistsand renewable energy advocates who oppose the development of centralized solar powerstations on large swaths of ecologically valuable desert lands. Solar Done Right works topromote, and educate the public about, the better alternative of distributed generation in thebuilt environment and on already developed, degraded, or contaminated lands.Western Lands Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Solar Done Right are jointly filing thisprotest to protect their members’ interests in the public lands in the six Southwestern statesthat would be subject to possible solar energy development if the BLM Director were to adoptthe proposed Resource Management Plan Amendments. The organizations’ membersfrequently visit the public lands in the six Southwestern states, including public lands that wouldbe available for solar energy development if the proposed RMP Amendments were adopted.Among other activities, members hike, camp, take photographs, and view and study plants andwildlife. They intend to pursue these activities on those same public lands in the future. Theirinterest in and enjoyment of these activities would be harmed if solar energy plants andtransmission facilities were developed on or near the public lands they enjoy.Copies of the comment letters on the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental ImpactStatement and the Supplemental Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statementsubmitted by Solar Done Right, and constituting the comments of Western Lands Project, Basinand Range Watch, and other groups, are submitted with this protest letter. In addition, theUnited States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted a comment letter on the DraftSolar PEIS on May 2, 2011 (available at http://www.epa.gov /region9/nepa/letters/solar-energy-six-states-DPEIS.pdf) and a comment letter on the Supplemental Draft Solar PEIS on January 27,2012 (available at http://www.epa.gov/region9 /nepa/letters/solar-energy-dev-six-states-psdeis.pdf). EPA’s letters also discuss the issues that will be addressed in this protest.
PEIS and Related Policy Take the Wrong Approach
The need to make a rapid transition to a renewable-based energy economy is urgent. Globalwarming threatens to unwind the relatively stable climate regime that has supported theevolution of present human and ecological systems. It is imperative that we target the mostefficient, rapid and cost-effective path to a renewable energy future that creates qualityemployment, revitalizes local economies, protects the environment and renews ourcommunities.The beauty of renewable energy is its ubiquity. Solar in particular is available globally at thepoint of use. Advances in renewable energy, including smart grid technologies, arerevolutionizing our energy systems. Many experts agree that decentralized generation anddistribution is the wave of the future. If we are to realize our full renewable energy potential, wemust make a major departure from the old energy business model dependent on a constantlyexpanding, centralized utility system.In the U.S., utility monopolies have dominated our energy sector for more than half a century.Resistance to change permeates the highest echelons of government. The adoption of 
 
ResearchResearchResearchResearch, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy t, Outreach and Advocacy to Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Publico Keep Public Lands Public
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Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in many states, including the six states analyzed for solarresources in the PEIS, reflects this old energy paradigm.But by mandating a market “add-on,” rather than a substitution, RPSs may be ineffective inreducing emissions or climate change. With no requirement to reduce fossil-fuel-generatedpower by an equivalent mega-wattage, RPS mandates are being used by Investor OwnedUtilities to create an artificial market above existing generation, even as efficiency andconservation reduce overall demand. In addition, utilities are playing the green card to justifylucrative new transmission infrastructure. If left unchecked, RPS policies could undermineefforts to reduce CO2 emissions, unnecessarily increase the cost of renewable energy, and delayby decades our transition to a new energy economy.By converting public lands to industrial energy factories in fragile, remote areas with massiverequirements for transmission at great cost to ratepayers and the environment, our renewableenergy policy is taking the least enlightened path possible, while attempting to create theillusion of innovation and progress.As of July 2012, eleven solar projects on over 36,000 acres had been approved on public lands.The projects range from 618 to 7,025 acres, with the average power plant exceeding 3,300acres. As of July, pending proposals numbered 76, and would cover a total of 695,387 acres of public land (email communication, July 10, 2012, from Jayme Lopez, Renewable EnergyCoordination Office, BLM). The scale, intensity, and pace of development on public lands areunprecedented. Massive solar power plants pose irreversible, long-term, cumulative ecosystem-and species-level threats to fragile desert and grassland biomes.In addition, allowing applications for and approving so many projects at once has renderedpublic review of environmental impact studies, let alone understanding of the cumulativeimpacts, nearly impossible.
Net GHG Reduction Unproven
No scientific evidence has been presented to support the claim that these projects reducegreenhouse emissions. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that the opposite may be true. Recentwork at the Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, suggests that soildisturbance from large-scale solar development may disrupt Pleistocene-era caliche depositsthat release carbon to the atmosphere when exposed to the elements, thus “negat[ing] thesolar development C gains.” Researchers call for more studies on groundwater depletion,landscape fragmentation, vegetation type conversion and regional carbon budgets. Theresearchers warn that “moving forward with industrial-scale solar developments in undevelopeddesert habitats without quantifying the array of impacts…may unknowingly compromisebiodiversity and soil disturbance from large-scale solar ecosystem functioning.” (Allen,McHughen, Barrows. Impacts of Large-Scale Solar Development on Regional EcosystemDynamics: Critical Research Gaps. Desert Tortoise Council, 36
th
Annual Meeting and Symposium,February 18-20, 2011, Las Vegas, NV).In addition, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), used primarily as an electrical insulator in high voltagetransmission of electricity, is the most potent of the six greenhouse gases regulated by the EPA,with a global warming potential 23,900 times that of CO2. One pound of SF6 is equivalent to

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