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Western Lands Update June 2013

Western Lands Update June 2013

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Published by westernlands
Newsletter of the Western Lands Project
Newsletter of the Western Lands Project

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Published by: westernlands on Jun 10, 2013
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Western Lands Update • The Newsletter of the Western Lands Project • http://westernlands.org
P.O. Box
Seattle, WA
206) 325-3503
Summer 2013
Volume 17, No. 1In This Issue:
Continued on page 2
Mining land trades
Sealaska and the Tongass
Point Reyes update
Western Lands & FriendsFile Lawsuit OnDestructive Solar Policy
or the last three years
Western Lands Update
readers havelearned, along with us, about the terrible impacts o the ObamaInterior Department’s industrial-solar invasion o our desertecosystems, and the unexamined alternatives or renewable energydevelopment that could spare these public lands.While at rst loath to take on the issue, we simply had to as it be-came clear that solar development essentially amounts to privatization:the land is scraped raw, utterly transormed, enced o. It may beleased rather than sold, but there is no getting it back – or even i asolar plant is dismantled ater the 30- to 50-year lie o its permit, roma land-use perspective it has been permanently industrialized and roman ecological perspective it cannot be restored. The impacts o BigSolar (not to mention Big Wind) on public lands could doom whateverchance desert ecosystems may have to remain unctional in the ace o climate change.In that light, Western Lands Project has worked steadily to raiseawareness o this issue and push or a dramatic change in policy. Wecoounded Solar Done Right, a coalition ocused on both illuminatingthe environmental destruction and waste associated with industrial-scale solar and raising public awareness o distributed generation (DG)– the localized, ecient, democratic, and cost-eective alternative thatputs solar on rootops and in the built environment. We camped out inthe desert with ellow activists to bear witness to an ecosystem in peril,then few to Washington D.C. to educate law-and policy-makers and
2 Western Lands Update Summer 2013 Vol. 17 # 1
Solar Lawsuit
From page 1
urge a change in course. We wrote papersand op-eds; gave presentations and mediainterviews; strategized with grassrootsgroups; and exhorted Gang Green – thenational groups – to get on the right side o the issue.We did not expect these eorts toresult in a quick change in policy. Yet theissue o renewable energy developmenthas presented obstacles that make it evenmore challenging than our long-standingquest to keep public land public. Here, theentrenched interests o corporations, theDemocratic Party, Gang Green, and thebig oundations have aligned to supportthe industrialization o our desert publiclands and have ormed a bulwark o misin-ormation and alse choices in support o Big Solar.Our latest action brings us head-to-headagainst the Administration and its policy:Western Lands and two ellow public-interest environmental organizations haveled a legal challenge against Interior’sdecision to keep 19 million acres o publicland available to industry or utility-scalesolar plants. Western Lands Sta AttorneyChris Krupp is representing us as well asco-plaintis Desert Protective Council andWestern Watersheds Project.The complaint led on February 12,2013 cited the government’s ailure toconsider alternatives that would ocus solardevelopment on degraded lands and in thealready-built environment. The govern-ment’s analysis under the National En-vironmental Policy Act (NEPA) ignoredalternative approaches that would be arless damaging to the environment, moreecient, and less costly to taxpayers andratepayers.
Wrong rom the Start
In May 2008, the Interior and Energydepartments initiated an eort that wouldresult in a policy or siting industrial-scalesolar projects on public land. The center-piece was a programmatic environmentalimpact statement (PEIS). Like a regularenvironmental impact statement (EIS), thiswould look at alternatives – but beyondthe single-project, site-specic analysis ina regular EIS, its goal would be to arrive atan overall ramework or the government’spermitting o solar projects.Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazarmade solar development on public land atop priority and one o his highest-proleissues, heralding an approach he called“smart rom the start.” The Bureau o LandManagement, an agency o Interior, man-ages the lands involved and was in charge o the PEIS eort. Initially, the BLM ocusedon identiying Solar Energy Zones – de-ned areas within which solar developmentwould be permitted – in six southwesternstates, adding up to some 670,000 acres.The expectation was that these zoneswould bear the brunt o solar develop-ment and that their establishment signaleda genuine intention to limit the amounto public land open to industrialization.Yet, the drat PEIS identied a “preerredalternative” that would keep 22 millionacres open, and the supplemental dratPEIS, 21.5 million. The nal plan’s pre-erred alternative was to keep 19 millionacres open, and designate solar energyzones on a little less than 300,000 acres, in
Corporations, the Democratic Party, GangGreen, and big oundations have aligned tosupport the industrialization o our desertpublic lands or Big Solar.
Western Lands Update Summer 2013 Vol. 17 # 1 3
Arizona, Caliornia, Colorado, Nevada,New Mexico and Utah. Permits or devel-opment in the zones would be streamlined,while those in the larger acreage would re-quire a variance. Salazar signed o on theplan on October 12, 2012, beore retiringin April 2013.
NEPA violations
Our lawsuit asserts that BLM violatedNEPA by ailing to examine two addi-tional alternatives: a DG alternative, andanother in which solar energy acilitieswould be sited on previously degraded ordamaged lands. During the PEIS commentperiods, we, as well as the EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA), called or analy-sis o these alternatives, but BLM ignoredthem. In act, through a program called“Repowering America’s Lands,” EPA hasidentied and created a database o con-taminated and degraded lands potentiallysuitable or siting o renewables, includ-ing areas close to existing transmissionlines. EPA requested that the BLM at thevery least append inormation about thisprogram to the PEIS. Again, the agencyignored this request.Analysis o alternatives is a central com-ponent o NEPA. Comparing the impactso a range o alternatives is not intended just to aid the public’s understanding,but to help the agency arrive at a better-inormed decision. The plaintis stronglybelieve that the superiority o the DG anddegraded-lands options would be clear hadthey been analyzed next to the others.The limitations inherent in NEPAlitigation are legendary. The courts havedetermined that NEPA is procedural,rather than substantive law – meaning thatthe law only requires agencies to prop-erly ollow its procedures pertaining tonotication, public involvement, analysis,etc. and does not require that the agencychoose a particular alternative. That is,it does not dictate the substantive result.Thus a successul challenge o the NEPAanalysis may only result in urther analysisollowed by the very same decision.The same may hold true or a program-matic EIS: as the result o a NEPA courtvictory, the agency might examine the DGand degraded-land alternatives and endup choosing the 19-million-acre alterna-tive yet again. However, we believe that i DG and degraded-land alternatives wereactually analyzed and could be comparedside-by-side to the current proposal, thesuperiority o these alternatives would beclear – to the public at large, certainly, andpossibly even to Gang Green. This knowl-edge in turn could bring about the neededchange in policy. That is our hope.The powerul interests that support BigSolar have created many alse storylines: toconront the climate crisis, we must deploymassive renewable-energy inrastructureon public lands; those who oppose BigSolar are either climate-deniers or coal-industry sympathizers; sacrice o desertecosystems is a necessary tradeo in thepursuit o renewable energy.We don’t believe these stories, and wewill continue to advance the truth in everyvenue we have, including the courts.
A better way: Solar panels on a WalMart in Caguas, Puerto Rico.Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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