Summer 2010

Research, Outreach, and Advocacy to Keep Public Lands Public

Western Lands Update

Western Lands Project Seattle, Washington
Vol. 14, No. 1

Rethinking Big Solar on Public Lands


ince passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the federal government has been strongly promoting renewable energy projects on public land, including large-scale solar facilities in parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. Companies are taking advantage of fast-track federal permitting and huge tax incentives that will come to those who can present substantial plans by the end of 2010. The Southwest could be especially hard hit, with hundreds of thousands of acres of fragile desert paved in mirrors, if the projects planned there go through. Intuitively, large solar energy projects strike most people as sensible, an unquestioned public good, even benign. For public lands advocates, however, it is much more complicated. The average proposed “Big Solar” project occupies 5,000 acres. Of the hundreds of projects lining up for permits, about 35 are currently on the fast track, and of those, 14 (planned on about 50,000 acres) are in critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. These facilities must also hook up to transmission lines, and hundreds of miles of new lines and extensions are planned. Where permits succeed, the projects will be built on public land rightsof-way, a temporary use. The solar plants have estimated project lives of only 30 years. Yet the

scale, intensity, and irreversibility of the impacts these projects will bring to public land essentially render them permanent. In fact, we consider the projects to entail “virtual privatization,” because they completely alter their sites and preclude all other uses and public values. Some of the national environmental groups have called for large energy projects to be built on “already-degraded” public lands, or on private agricultural land that has gone out of use. But for the most part, they have acquiesced to the sacrifice of large areas of public land they might otherwise defend to accommodate a non-fossil-fuel energy policy they also support. We were more sympathetic to the dilemma before we found copious (if largely unpublicized) evidence that better, far less damaging, and more efficient technology is available in the form of distributed solar—i.e., installations on rooftops and other areas of the built environment. The common “wisdom” has been that these technologies cannot compete in costContinued next page 

The desert is perennially undervalued and too easily abused. Photo: Chris Clarke

—Continued from page 1 effectiveness and efficiency with the largescale solar developments—that’s what the power companies would like the public to believe in order to protect their bottom lines, and it’s what they are telling members of Congress every day. Yet this is not the case at all. While Congress has put considerable political will and momentum behind Big Solar, it has not studied distributed generation—let alone considered promoting and deploying it on the grand scale that could transform our energy use. Now 13 years into our organization’s well-established mission to keep public land public, we know we cannot dedicate ourselves wholly to the issue of distributed solar technology, but neither can we ignore the fact that there is an alternative to the destruction of so much public land. Our obvious course of action is one we often take: turn to the grassroots! While the big national environmental groups are issuing bland statements of concern about the dilemma of Big Solar, grassroots activists all over the desert Southwest spend their days studying, critiquing and dreading the arrival of these projects. In the nature of so many local activists we have known, their passion has driven them to become experts and to seek an alternative scenario. Because we have several years’ experience educating policymakers on our issues, the Western Lands Project is now working with activists in the desert to help them deliver their message to Congress about the impacts of, and sane alternatives to, massive public lands “renewables” development. We are demonstrating to congressional staff that there is another story to be told, and a tremendous reservoir of information they can and must tap into. It’s unlikely we can turn things around completely, but citizens must act to spare as much public land as we can and bring a better alternative, distributed generation, to the forefront. You can read an excellent summary of the issues at writer-photographer Chris Clarke’s blog, Coyote Crossing: index.php/site / item/desert_solar_faq/

If you would like to help push things in the right direction, please contact your representatives in Congress. Tell them you don’t want your public lands relegated to the status of an energy factory, and that the far better alternative of distributed generation must be our policy.

The Mojave Cross. Photo: Gina Ferazzi LA Times-Newscom

Western Lands Update


Summer 2010

Supreme Court Sends Back Mojave Cross Case


n late April, the United States Supreme Court issued a knotted and narrow ruling in Salazar v. Buono, a case concerning the display of a Latin cross as a war memorial within the Mojave National Preserve in California. Six opinions were issued, none representing a majority of justices. By a 5-4 decision, the Court remanded the case back to the district court, finding that the lower court used a faulty legal standard when it invalidated a Congressional land exchange involving the land on which the cross sits. The cross was first erected in 1934, by private citizens, though on federal land. Plaintiff Frank Buono, a war veteran and retired National Park Service employee, first brought suit in 2001, arguing that the Park Service permitting the display of the cross was a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. After the district and Ninth Circuit courts ruled in Buono’s favor, Congress tried to keep the cross in place by inserting language in a defense bill that directed the Park Service to make a land trade with a local VFW post for the acre of land on which the cross sits. Buono again brought suit and the district and Ninth Circuit courts ruled that the legislative endrun did not cure the Establishment Clause violation. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion said that “the goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm,” and “the Constitution does

not oblige the government to avoid any public acknowledgement of religion’s role in society.” This opinion had the most votes, but not a majority, so it did not speak for the court. Even the five justices that signed on to the judgment ordering the remand were split: Three said that the district court erred in holding that the land exchange did not conform with the Establishment Clause while the two others said the lower court should not have even reached the issue because the plaintiff lacked the standing necessary to challenge the land trade. (It is somewhat surprising that seven justices found that Buono did have standing, as in the last 20 years or so, the court has generally narrowed standing). The judgment directs the district court to reevaluate whether the land trade violated the Establishment Clause. Given Kennedy’s opinion, it seems likely that the lower court will allow the land trade to proceed and the cross to remain. Nonetheless, despite reaching the Supreme Court, the case may not have much of an effect on Establishment Clause law, as Kennedy implied: “To date, this Court’s jurisprudence in this area has refrained from making sweeping pronouncements, and this case is ill suited for announcing categorical rules.” Western Lands Project, with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), submitted an amicus brief in support of Frank Buono in this case.

Western Lands Update


Summer 2010

Land Grab is the Latest Threat to Tongass National Forest


n 1971, Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, creating a system whereby Alaskan aboriginal land claims could be resolved. The bill was given strong impetus largely by oildevelopment proposals that would otherwise be stalled. ANCSA created 200 native Village Corporations and thirteen native Regional Corporations to select lands on behalf of native groups. Boundaries were established from which the respective corporations could make land selections. All together, the native entities were entitled to 44 million acres and cash payments of almost a billion dollars. The regional corporation Sealaska made its land selections in and around the lush Tongass National Forest—our largest. Under lax state regulations governing private forest practices, Sealaska proceeded to cut down to bare dirt the forest it had claimed under ANCSA. (To see the extremity of their practices, go to YouTube. com and search for “Hoonah’s Legacy”). In the meantime, Forest Service-managed forest in the Tongass was also subject to massive exploitation and environmental damage. The publicly-owned trees of the Tongass were clear-cut under 50-year contracts—unique in the National Forest System— granted to just two corporations, Alaska Pulp Corporation and Ketchikan Pulp Company. APC and KPC received this largesse for building and running mills to employ area workers. Also unique was a waiver that allowed trees from the Tongass to be exported as whole logs—something not allowed in other national forests—and

much of the Tongass was shipped to Japan barely processed. The contracts were a huge money loser for taxpayers, and when the mills shut down in the mid and late 1990s in the face of shrinking subsidies and lower mandated timber targets, the contracts were terminated.

Now, Sealaska has cut all of its most accessible trees and wants to cherry-pick the largest remaining trees in the Tongass. Legislation now in Congress would allow Sealaska to claim up to 85,000 acres of public land outside the mandated ANCSA boundaries. Senator Lisa Murkowski, ranking Republican member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is sponsor of S. 881, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act. Sealaska’s entitlement under ANCSA was some 350,000 acres, of which about 63,000 acres have yet to be selected. The pool of lands from which it can currently make selections comprises 327,000 acres —this is public land, but the corporation persists in characterizing this as a “trade.” The trees Sealaska hopes to end up with are accessible by way of a road system put in place under Forest Service management (and thus provided by you and me). Sealaska wants mainly “big-tree old-growth” on areas of karst, a relatively rare and fragile soil and soluble-rock regime that supports exceptionally biologically-rich forest. Residents of southeast Alaska are, frankly, freaked out at the prospect of Sealaska claiming the areas they have targeted.

Much of the private, state, and Native Corporation land in southeast Alaska looks like this. Photo: David Beebe

Western Lands Update


Summer 2010

These are located on North Prince of Wales and Kosciusko islands, where small communities are scraping by on tourism, guiding, fishing, small-scale logging and milling, and—very important—subsistence hunting and gathering. All are imperiled by the Murkowski-Sealaska plan. Despite their geographic isolation and logistical challenges, residents have coalesced to fight the bill, and Western Lands supports their efforts. Like them, we respect Sealaska’s claim to more land within the ANCSA boundaries, but not a re-drawing of those lines. We simply have to stand on the side of the Tongass.

Please help by registering your opposition to S. 881. Because most members of Congress don’t allow email through their websites from non-constituents, your best bet is to call and leave your comment. Here are three key contacts: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), bill sponsor, 202.224.6665 Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) co-sponsor, 202.224.3004 Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Chair of Energy & Natural Resources Committee, 202.224.5521

Phosphate Mine Proposal Includes Land Sale & Exchange


n April 13, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service announced a proposed land sale and land exchange that would facilitate development of the Dairy Syncline phosphate mine by J.R. Simplot Company. The mine site is in southeast Idaho, one of the two primary phosphate deposit areas in the U.S. The proposal includes a Forest Service land exchange; a BLM land sale; an open pit phosphate mine; a new milling facility; installation of underground lines for phosphate slurry, tailings and water; a new tailings impoundment; and a new power line. In total, the Dairy Syncline Mine would impact more than 2,100 acres of federal land. Simplot already holds leases from the BLM that give the company exclusive rights to mine and dispose of the phosphate deposit at the site.

accumulative mineral that contaminates soil and air, occurs naturally at very high levels in the phosphate fields, and is brought to the surface during mining. Selenium is listed as a priority pollutant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and there are fifteen related Superfund sites in Caribou County. Elevated selenium concentrations have caused significant declines in, or even eliminated, Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations in some watersheds. Over the years, sheep, cattle and horses have died from grazing or drinking water near phosphate operations. Last year, eighteen cattle died after being moved to an abandoned Simplot phosphate-mining site located just a few miles from a federal wildlife management area. The cattle began dying less than a week after being moved to the site. Campaigns by local and regional groups, including the Caribou Clean Water Partnership ( and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition ( have brought greater scrutiny to the phosphate mining industry in the past few years. Western Lands will be working with Idaho groups to scrutinize the Dairy Syncline project as it proceeds.

The lands Simplot wants to purchase and acquire by exchange would become the mine’s tailings pond area. The pond would be an earthen dam structure with a capacity of 20 million cubic yards of material, large enough to hold all tailings created during the mine’s lifetime. Environmental damage from phosphate mining is already widespread in southeast Idaho. Selenium, a persistent, bio-

Western Lands Update


Summer 2010

Turn a Dollar for Public Land into Two
Take a good look at the names to the right. Those are the people that keep Western Lands Project going strong. Among our current donors are longtime members and those new to the fold. There are fellow activists, retirees, ex-Forest Service officials, BLM whistleblowers, birders, writers, academics, and those who just want to help. Some members give a little and some give a lot. The one thing all of us share is our love of America’s public lands and our belief in the value of the commons. In our very first newsletter back in the fall of 1997, when the project was just getting started, there were only five names on that list. Members may have been few, but they shared Janine’s outrage at the dismantling of the commons. Thirteen years later, our uncompromising approach to public lands protection has not changed, but our expertise and influence on policy has steadily grown, along with our membership list. Some of those original donors from back in 1997 continue to support us today. It’s that kind of steadfast backing that inspires us onwards and allows us to protect the public places that we all treasure. And that’s what the grassroots are all about – people coming together to lift up the causes they believe in.

This year, there’s a special incentive by one of our funders to get even more members to join the ranks of those supporting our mission. The Good Works Institute has offered to match all contributions from individuals, up to a total of $10,000 doubling your gift. There’s never been a better time to donate to Western Lands Project or tell others about our work. Please consider taking advantage of this opportunity to make your donation (and those of your friends and neighbors) go twice as far. As always, thank you for being a part of our community of public land protectors. We couldn’t do this good work without you. Sincerely,

Western Lands Project

P.O. Box 95545 Seattle, WA 98145-2545 phone 206.325.3503

Board of Directors

There is just one hope of repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness. —Robert Marshall
Western Lands Update 6

Erica Rosenberg, President, Washington, DC Marianne Dugan, Sec’y-Treasurer, Eugene, OR Sandra Perkins, Seattle, WA Steve Gilbert, Helena, MT David Gladstone, Snohomish, WA Sandy Lonsdale, Moab, UT Rebecca Rundquist, Portland, ME

Janine Blaeloch, Director Christopher Krupp Staff Attorney Emily Crandall Development Manager

Summer 2010

Thank you, wonderful members!*

Marlin Ard, Jerry & Mildred Asker, Molly Attell, Jack & Rosemary Bailey, Lynne Bama, Gregory Bartha, Robert Beck, David Beebe, Janine Blaeloch, Joann Blalock, Denise Boggs, Chris & Sandy Boothe, Joseph & Susan Bower, Bob Brister, Bart & Martha Brown, Julie Brugger, Linda Campbell, Meg Campbell, Mel & Sheila Canal, Roald Cann, Irene Cannon-Geary, Rob Castleberry & Joyce Thomas, Mark Collier, Charles Couper, Emily & Drew Crandall, Frank Culver, Shirley Dahlner, Betsy Dennis, Tom Deveny, Craig & Lynn Dible, David & Martha Doty, Mark Drake, Marianne Dugan, Mark & Lois Eagleton, George Early, Michelle Eaton, Paul & Gladys Raye Eaton, Judith Enich, Jim & Elizabeth Erickson, Alan & Myra Erwin, Garth Ferber, Donald Ferry, Deborah Filipelli, Jared Fuller, Lydia Garvey, Steve Gilbert, Thelma Gilmur, David & Melinda Gladstone, Nunzie Gould, Marshall & Elizabeth Hamilton, Charles E. Hancock, Ginger Harmon, Roger Harmon, Ann Harvey, Rebecca Haseleu, RJ & Annie Haskins, Randall Holmberg, Heidi Hubbell, William Hull, Dave & Corey Jacobs, Dave Kaiser & Kristin Temperly, Steve Kelly, Thad King, Fayette Krause, Chris Krupp, Jessica Langsam, Joseph Lee & Susan Eisner, David & Teri Leibforth, Michael Lengyel, Phyllis Lindner, Allan J. Lindrup, John Livermore, Sandy Lonsdale, Craig Lorch, Joseph T. Maier, Mike Maloney, Brandt Mannchen, Louise Mariana, Jon Marvel, Clyde & Joan McClelland, Ann McConnell, Rick McGuire, Laurene McLane, Jo Anne Monday & Daniel Daneff, Kim Morton, John Mumma, Barbara Myers, Ralph Nader, Andrew Nelson & Teresa Ward, Rich Nelson, George Nickas, Lyle Oberg, John & Rachael Osborn, Colleen O’Sullivan, Deborah Paulson, Forrest Peebles, Sandra Perkins & Jeffrey Ochsner, Scotty Phillips, Theresa Potts, Bill Rodgers, Ben Rogers & Myra Bergman Ramos, Paul Rogland, Erica Rosenberg & Dan Sarewitz, Erich Franz Schimps, Mr. & Mrs. Marvin L. Schinnerer, Justin Schmidt, Gordon Schochet, Mary Ann Schroeder, Michael Shurgot, Richard Slagle, Bernadette M. Sonefeld, Richard Spudich, Robert Stivers, Sally Strain, Richard Strickland, Bob Strumpf, Val & Mary Ann Tollefson, Kay Tornborg, Stephen Trimble, Jeanne Turgeon, Pete & Lisa Turner, Wolter & Anneka Van Doorninck, John Viner, Wade & Shirley Vaughn, Gwen Warren, Cathy Weeden, Terry Weiner, Edward & Victoria Welch, Jerry Williams, Jennifer Yogi & Matt Adams, Ray Ziarno

We  our monthly donors, shown in bold. Become one today.
* These lists include donations/grants received from December 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010. If your gift was received after this date, you’ll be acknowledged in our next newsletter. We are grateful to have your support.

We are grateful for the foundations & businesses supporting our work!
The Elinor Patterson Baker Foundation Clif Bar Family Foundation Dancing Tides Foundation The Darby Foundation Firedoll Foundation Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – Matching Gift Horizons Foundation Norcliffe Foundation Park Foundation PCC Natural Markets – Scrip Card Program Pew Charitable Trusts – Matching Gift Quail Roost Foundation Safety Systems Foundation Satterberg Foundation The White Pine Fund
Western Lands Update 7 Summer 2010

Western Lands Project
PO Box 95545 Seattle, WA 98145-2545


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