November 6, 2015

Citing flawed BLM report, judge sends Searchlight wind farm back to drawing board

By Kyle Roerink | Las Vegas Sun | Nov. 6, 2015 |

Citing flawed analysis by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal judge halted an 87-turbine wind project slated to be built near Searchlight in some of the Mojave Desert’s most environmentally-sensitive habitat.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du rebuked the BLM for “gaps” in the agency’s research about the project’s impact on golden eagles, tortoises and bats. The decision requires the project to restart its permitting process, which could trigger multiyear delays or halt it entirely.

res of BLM land between Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Searchlight.

The BLM’s environmental study, approved by the Department of Interior in March 2013, said that the project would affect 119 desert tortoises. But Du said that number had “unexplained inconsistencies” and agreed with plaintiffs that there could be closer to 1,000 of the threatened tortoises in the project area.

The BLM estimated there to only be three golden eagle nests in the project’s vicinity. But a study conducted by the state found that there were more than nine times as many.

The decision comes after a three-year legal battle by environmentalists including Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains, Basin and Range Watch and Las Vegas resident Judy Bundorf to stop the project, which would have been the second of its kind in the state.

“This is a stupid place to try to build an industrial-scale energy facility,” said Dave Becker, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs.

While the decision was a “great victory,” it highlights a dilemma for environmental advocates across the nation, Becker said. Renewable energy projects, including solar and wind plants, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but can be located on sensitive habitats.

Becker said there hasn’t been enough “discrimination” in approving projects: “We like to say the federal government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, but when it comes to land management it’s exactly what the BLM should be doing – picking projects with big benefits and low impacts.”

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