Water, work, wildlife, and wilderness: the collaborative federal public lands planning framework for utility-scale solar energy development in the desert southwest.

Author:McIntyre, Siobhan
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION II. A CONSENSUS ON RENEWABLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT A. A National Priority B. Nevada's Electric Restructuring Legislation and Renewable Portfolio Standard C. Arizona's Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff. D. California's Renewables Portfolio Standard III. SOLAR TECHNOLOGIES: ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CONCERNS A. Commercially Available Solar Technologies B. Environmental Concerns: Water Resources in the Desert Southwest C. Socioeconomic Concerns: Green Jobs and Solar Employment Projections IV. SITING SOLAR FACILITIES ON FEDERAL LANDS A. BLM Process for Siting Solar Facilities B. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 and Rights-of-Way C. BLM Resource Management Plans/Land Use Plans D. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and Environmental Impact Statements Statements E. From Theory to Practice in Collaborative Planning and Ecosystem-Based Management F. Programmatic Environmental impact Statements V. APPLICABLE STATE LAW A. Nevada 1. Public Utilities Commission of Nevada Siting Regulations 2. Nevada Water Resource Allocation Statutes B. Arizona 1. Arizona Corporation Commission Certificate of Environmental Compatibility 2. Arizona Water Resource Allocation Statutes C. California 1. California Energy Commission and the California Environmental Quality Act 2. California Water Resource Allocation Statutes VI. FAST-TRACK PROJECTS: COORDINATION IN SITE SPECIFIC ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS A. Nevada: Silver State Solar Project 1. Las Vegas Resource Management Plan 2. Silver State Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision a. Project Description and Siting b. Water Resource Allocation c. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment d. Collaborative Process e. Approved Project B. Arizona: Sonoran Solar Energy Project 1. Lower Gila South Resource Management Plan 2. Sonoran Solar Energy Project Final Environmental impact Statement a. Project Description and Siting b. Water Resource Allocation c. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment d. Collaborative Process C. California: Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System 1. California Desert Conservation Area Plan 2. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision a. Project Description and Siting b. Water Resource Allocation c. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment d. Collaboration and Public Participation e. Approved Project D. A Comparative Look at the Nevada, Arizona, and California Fast-Track Projects VII. THE SOLAR PROGRAMMATIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT: A POTENTIAL FOUNDATION FOR CONVERSATION AND CONSERVATION ON BLM SOLAR DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS A. Introduction B. Resource Management Plan/Land Use Plan Amendments in Solar Development Areas C. BLM's Preferred Alternative: The Solar Energy Development Program 1. Solar Energy Development Program Administrative Policies 2. Affected Environment, Environmental Impacts, and Solar Energy Development Program Design Features a. Water Resources b. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment D. Proposed Solar Energy Zones 1. Nevada a. Water Resources b. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment c. Public Participation 2. Arizona a. Water Resources b. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment c. Public Participation 3. California a. Water Resources b. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment c. Public Participation E. Collaborative Processes for the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement F. Environmental Assessment of Specific Solar Energy Zones in the Solar Programmatic Environmental impact Statement VIII. CONCLUSION: THE SOLAR PROGRAMMATIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT IS ONLY A STARTING POINT FOR FUTURE SOLAR DEVELOPMENT ON BLM LANDS A. The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement: The Benefits of Regional BLM Multi Use Guidelines B. Proposed Improvements to the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement 1. Water Resources 2. Green Jobs: Labor and Employment 3. Resource Management Plan Amendments: The First Tier of Management 4. The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Should Mandate Increased Efforts Towards Interagency Coordination and Collaboration C. The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Solar Energy Zone-Specific Analysis Cannot Replace Project-Specific Environmental impact Statements and Should Not Serve as a Rubber Stamp for Future Projects D. Reconciling Conflicts over Water, Work, Wildlife, and Wilderness I. INTRODUCTION

    The Plan recognizes that the public lands of the California Desert belong to all of the United States, that these lands are not isolated but are spread out among or are adjacent to lands managed by other agencies of Federal, State, and local government .... The Plan is based on a "good neighbor" concept and will treat considerately the needs and concerns of other landowners and jurisdictions in the Desert. (1) Overall, United States citizens support developing renewable energy and "[f]ully 87% favor including a provision in comprehensive energy legislation to require utilities to produce more energy from wind, solar or other renewable sources." (2) In fact, current legislation, enacted by both federal and state governments, already reflects this national consensus. Furthermore, this overwhelming statistical majority represents a broad base of constituent support and suggests that renewable energy development presents diverse opportunities, appealing to a wide array of stakeholders. For example, Arizona's Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (RES&T) (3) requires in-state utilities to generate 15% of total energy from renewable technologies by 2025. (4) This measure garnered support from groups with dissimilar missions, ranging from industry interests, represented by firms, including the Southwest Gas Corporation and supermarket megalith, Kroger Co.; federal executive agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service; numerous land trusts; public interest and education groups, including the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists; and traditional environmental advocacy groups, such as the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club and Arizona Trout Unlimited. (5) Renewable energy's broad appeal arises from a synthesis between two equally compelling, but often competing, goals--fostering a healthy, pollutant-free environment and spurring economic growth and security. Thus, for many nontraditional allies, renewable energy development has become a shared enthusiasm and a unique source of common ground.

    Siting renewable energy projects not only inspires, but als0 requires, a similar collaborative spirit. (6) In response to the national desire to increase renewable energy development, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) (7) provides that the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) should seek to approve renewable energy projects located on federal, public lands before the end of 2015. (8) Although federal lands occupy a separate legal jurisdiction, the corporeal terra firma itself remains physically interconnected across federal, state, regional, and local geographic bounds. Accordingly, effects arising from siting decisions on federal land impact the natural ecosystems, human populous, and economies throughout these jurisdictions. Moreover, although federal land management agencies possess experience siting transmission towers on public lands, (9) traditionally, state public utility commissions have exercised primary jurisdiction to site and regulate transmission and electric generation facilities. (10)

    DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently conducting two, parallel tracked efforts to site renewable energy generation facilities on federal lands, predominantly in the desert southwest. These efforts are driven by the EPAct, executive orders, and secretarial orders intended to expedite environmentally sound energy development, and loan incentives and grants authorized for renewable development by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). (11) First, BLM is attempting to permit a select group of "fast-track" projects in order to facilitate numerous renewable generation project groundbreakings before the statutory deadline expires for receipt of incentivizing loans from the Department of Energy (DOE). (12) Second, BLM intends to develop a systematic program to permit and authorize future, ongoing renewable development on public lands. (13) Under both initiatives, proposed projects must comply with applicable public land management laws and must complete environmental impact statements (EISs) according to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). (14) Specifically, DOI, in coordination with the DOE, is conducting a Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Solar PEIS) to support a "Bureau-wide solar energy development program" and to consider whether "to amend land use plans in the six-state study area to adopt the new program." (15) In addition, state public utility agencies must approve individual projects based on state siting regulations and associated environmental review processes, as well as any additional state or local permits necessary to begin construction. (16)

    This Article explores collaborative relationships between federal and state agencies in the solar facility siting process. Part II provides an overview of federal and state programs, mandates, and incentives to develop renewable energy. We review specific examples of collaborative efforts by comparing the individual fast-track EIS from one solar energy utility project permitted on public lands in each of three states: Nevada, California, and Arizona. The Article frames this comparison by focusing on two case studies which reflect the impact and scope of these relationships. The first will examine an issue of pressing concern for the southwest region: water resource allocation. The second will consider the national, economic interest in renewable energy development's impact on labor and employment...

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