September 8, 2012 (San Diego) – The BLM expects to finalize its plan to fast –track solar projects as early as this month while ignoring written protests filed by several environmental groups (as previously reported by ECM http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/10908). The projects affect more than a quarter-million acres across six Southwestern states, including California.
Sixteen formal protests have been filed by environmentalists, industry groups, counties, tribes and ranchers who oppose various aspects of the BLM’s final plan. As reported by E&ENews PM, Ray Brady, manager of BLM’s national renewable energy coordination office in Washington, D.C., said the agency plans to publish a response to the protests by September 27 and a record of decision finalizing the plan is expected to be signed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar by the end of the month.
Terry Weiner of San Diego, cofounder of Solar Done Right, one of the groups that filed a protest said in an email “Shameful that the BLM would move forward without addressing the protests. They are certainly not following their usual procedure. Even in the Ocotillo Wind project, the BLM reviewed and commented on the protests prior to Salazar signing the Record of Decision!”
The proposal removes some lands from future solar development consideration, but opponents contend the plan leaves wide the door for devastation of many millions of acres of public lands. Solar projects require scraping the earth bare, destroying habitat for sensitive species such as desert tortoises and burrowing owls.
The protest by the Western Watersheds Project argues the BLM plan would violate the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, strongly hinting that the group is prepared to sue the federal government.
Many of the groups including the WWP, Western Lands Project, Basin and Range Watch, and Solar Done Right want the BLM to weigh alternatives restricting development only on disturbed lands or by placing solar panels on homes, businesses and other private properties—not formerly protected public lands.
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