Solar Industry Fried About Proposed BLM Reg (1)

As I mentioned before, the Biden Administration has a tough row to hoe keeping its protectionist friends and its development friends (solar, wind and transmission) happy on the same pieces of ground.  It’s really hard to write regs that favor some development, but not other development without stating some logic say.. uranium mining is bad, solar arrays and wind turbines are good, if the stated goal is carbon-free energy.  Interest groups don’t have to be rational, but it’s nice to at least try in a regulation. Hence some degree of regulatory fuzz.  But the regulatory fuzz may make your friends mistrustful, especially when, as in this case,  two sets of friends are not in alignment. And here we are with the solar industry groups’ letter, (thanks to Sammy Roth of the LA Times) which I think generally says “we don’t really trust you.”  Pretty much like many current user groups. From the letter:

The Renewable Energy Industry’s principal concerns with the Proposed Rule are as follows:

• Establishes Duplicative Land Conservation Program and Lowers Bar for Establishing ACECs. BLM already has effective and well-understood tools to conserve public lands that authorize the BLM State Director to evaluate and designate ACECs for resources of regional significance. Those existing tools can be used to protect landscapes and ecosystem resiliency without adoption of the Proposed Rule. The Proposed Rule would allow local BLM Field Managers to establish ACECs to protect resources of local importance, likely eliminating potential renewable energy development on vast tracts of Federal Land, and to do so without publication for notice and comment in the Federal Register. These changes to current regulations should not be adopted.

My bold: is this true? I like giving field managers authority, but aren’t we for public processes (and dare I say, well-known ones like the RMP process)?

• Establishes Broadly Defined and Unworkable Land Management Standards. The Proposed Rule requires local BLM Field Managers to protect broadly defined “intact landscapes,” prioritize “ecosystem resiliency,” and apply “land health” standards designed for grazing land in all areas and decisions. Local staff would likely not process applications (by giving them “low priority” under the regulations) in areas that will potentially be preserved in Resource Plan Amendments as “intact landscapes.” In addition, because arid lands cannot by their nature meet ecosystem resiliency or grazing land health standards, projects would be denied even though those standards are by their nature inappropriate for application to desert areas. Ecosystem resiliency standards and grazing land health standards should not be applied to renewable energy projects in desert areas; current biological resource protection standards amply protect these lands. Similarly, protection of landscapes, where appropriate, should occur through State Director approval of ACECs, not a separate process.

What is broken about current protections for projects of all kinds?  Why do more meaningless paperwork about what “land health” means?

• Creates Significant Litigation Risk. By establishing a programmatic mandate to require local officials to set aside intact landscapes and to apply inapposite ecosystem resiliency and grazing land health standards to solar applications on arid land, the Proposed Rule will expose BLM and developers to significant litigation risk from parties asserting that BLM failed to account properly for and consider these standards in the context of specific projects, or, more broadly, in the adoption of landscape level planning initiatives, such as the planned update to the Solar PEIS.

It appears that the solar industry’s Admin friends may have.. closer friends. Perhaps in large organizations with a contingent of environmental lawyers?  Maybe a larger check needs to be written to the 24 campaign?

• Undermines the Administration’s Clean Energy Goals. Currently, BLM is considering approximately 220 applications for solar, wind, geothermal and transmission projects. Many BLM Field Offices are already understaffed, overworked, and unable to process renewable energy applications at the pace necessary to meet the Administration’s climate change goals on federally managed lands. Implementation of the Proposed Rule at the BLM Field Office level is likely to divert attention and already constrained resources from processing renewable energy permits. Furthermore, adoption of the Proposed Rule will likely result in conflicting standards and mandates at the BLM Field Office level without guidance as to how these conflicts should be resolved, resulting in ambiguity, uncertainty, increased risk and delay.

This was a concern of many of the people at our public meeting in Denver.  So the BLM says it doesn’t have people to do the work it’s required to do by law, but needs to spend employees time on thinking and mapping intactness and defining land health.  One person at our meeting wondered where the money was coming from for this, she was told that it was coming from the IRA.  So climate bill money is used to make things more difficult for.. the renewable energy industry. OK, then.

The solar industry does like the conservation lease idea.  At our Denver meeting, BLM folks said that conservation leases were an idea they undertook due to input from their “industry partners”.   Why would you think federal land mitigation is better than private land mitigation, which the BLM already does?  Perhaps to get more money for restoration? But when I asked in Denver, they said the funds from leases were going to the Treasury.  So really, what they would do is enable BLM and industry to determine who else should be kicked off federal lands for an industry’s compensatory mitigation. To me, the idea of mitigation on private land makes more sense.   That seems to give (certain) industries or NGO’s a leg up in determining what happens on federal land, beyond the permit boundary itself.  What if Vail Resorts wants to kick some OHVers off someplace in Utah to mitigate its negative effects?  It’s like dividing up the BLM between (certain) industries and certain non-users.. all in the name of the environment.  Without actually making the case that the status quo with existing procedures is all that bad.




1 thought on “Solar Industry Fried About Proposed BLM Reg (1)”

  1. “without publication for notice and comment in the Federal Register”

    This is the language of rulemaking (for regulations) so maybe they are distinguishing between that process and the notification provided in the Federal Register for the planning/NEPA efforts that would be employed to designate protected areas. It’s a lower-profile process, maybe more subject to local interests, but still very public.

    In general, it looks like they are against a process that would take some locations off the table early so that they don’t have to waste their time (or BLM’s scare resources) on seeking permits where they are likely to be challenged. Seems counterproductive to me, but that seems to be the way industries work.

    I don’t understand why “arid lands cannot by their nature meet ecosystem resiliency or grazing land health standards” if those standards are based on the nature of the arid lands.


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