Water, Work, Wildlife, and Wilderness: The Collaborative Federal Public Lands Planning Framework for Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development in the Desert Southwest
Environmental Law, Vol. 41, p. 1093, Fall 2011
98 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2012
Date Written: 2011
Federal and state energy policies have recently emphasized increased renewable energy development, including large utility-scale solar energy projects in the desert southwest. Many of the prime solar development sites in the region are on public land, which is administered primarily by the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Federal public lands policy has therefore been confronted with a rush of project development proposals seeking federal Rights-of-Way (ROWs) from BLM. State permits and licenses, together with compliance with other federal regulatory requirements (especially under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act) must be coordinated with the BLM ROW grant process. This Article describes the BLM ROW process; describes and evaluates the BLM review for three utility-scale solar energy projects undergoing fast-track permitting under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in Nevada, Arizona, and California; and evaluates how the BLM’s Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar development in the six-state region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California could improve the BLM ROW process in order to reduce conflicts between renewable energy development goals and policy concerns about water, work, wildlife, and wilderness in the desert southwest. The Article concludes with recommendations for improving the collaborative federal public lands planning framework for utility-scale solar energy development in the desert southwest. In particular, we recommend policy changes for the PEIS and all BLM ROW grant reviews that will incorporate the best practices of the fast-tracked projects we have analyzed.
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