A number of environmental groups have filed formal protests of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (PEIS), prepared by the departments of Interior and Energy as a roadmap for public lands solar development.
The protests, received by the Obama administration late last month, object to omissions and weaknesses in the PEIS and position the groups for further challenges, possibly including lawsuits.
The PEIS sets out a basic framework for solar development on public lands in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. It designates 17 areas across the west as Solar Energy Zones (SEZs), totaling about 285,000 acres, and deems another 1.9 million acres of public lands “variance areas” on which solar development can proceed, albeit without the assessment and permitting shortcuts the SEZs offer.
The groups Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds each filed a formal protest to the PEIS, as did the Seattle-based Western Lands Project, whose protest was also signed by Basin and Range Watch and Solar Done Right. (As usual, full disclosure: I helped found Solar Done Right.)
Under the environmental assessment process established by the National Environmental Policy Act, members of the public can file protests of a project’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with the Secretary of the federal agency responsible for the EIS. The Secretary can consider the validity of the protests or decline to when reaching a formal decision on the project at issue, or arrange a settlement meeting with protestors.
Few such protests in and of themselves induce an agency to change course on a project, but they do bolster the protestors’ case should they decide to file suit over the project once the Secretary issues a formal Record of Decision. MORE …