BLM Designated 50 million Acres Open for Solar Development in Nevada

Bunkerville and Bundy Ranch open for ‘applications’

Some of the cattle that were rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management
Some of the cattle that were rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management / AP

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designated over 50 million acres of public land available for solar development in Nevada, including nearly all of Bunkerville, the home of the Bundy Ranch.

A map of "Proposed Solar Energy Zones" prepared by the federal agency in 2010 revealed that the government deemed over 70 percent of Nevada open to applications to lease public lands for solar projects.

According to the document, 9.6 million acres were available for applications through the "Solar Development Program," and an additional 40.8 million acres were available, though no action had been taken. The accessible land totals 50.4 million acres, or 71.7 percent of Nevada, which spans 70.3 million acres.

President Barack Obama has prioritized using public lands for green energy projects.

"When President Obama took office, there were no solar projects permitted on public lands," the Interior Department said in July 2012, announcing a "roadmap" for the development of more than a dozen solar plants. "Since 2009, Interior has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects that, when built, will produce nearly 5,900 megawatts of energy—enough to power approximately 1.8 million American homes."

"Thanks to steps already taken by this administration, renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar have doubled since the president took office," they said.

The administration said that over 19 million acres of public lands managed by the BLM have "excellent solar energy potential" in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

The Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) map preceded the final "Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement" (PEIS) for solar development in six southwestern states in 2012, which outlined an "initial set" of 17 projects on 285,000 acres of public lands.

BLM spokesman Craig Leff said there is "no connection" between the impoundment of Bundy’s cattle and solar energy development in Nevada.

"The gather was based on recent court orders," Leff told the Washington Free Beacon. "Most recently, in 2013, in two separate orders, the U.S. District Court of Nevada directed Mr. Bundy to remove his trespass cattle within 45 days, and authorized the United States to impound his cattle."

The dispute between Bundy and the BLM dates back to 1993, over his refusal to pay grazing fees and a third of the Gold Butte area being designated for protection of the desert tortoise five years later.

The most recent court orders occurred in July and October 2013. On March 19, the BLM issued a "Notice of Intent to Impound Unauthorized Livestock" grazing on BLM and NPS lands, and the roundup began on April 5.

The agency was forced to call the impound off one week later due to "escalating tensions," after bringing in hundreds of armed officials, which resulted in heated confrontations between the BLM and the Bundy family.

The BLM said that livestock grazing "threatens" the Gold Butte area, where the Bundys ranch lies, in a report for an environmental mitigation strategy for one solar project underway just outside of Las Vegas.

"The resource values found in the Gold Butte [Area of Critical Environmental Concern] ACEC are threatened by: unauthorized activities, including off-road vehicle use, illegal dumping, and trespass livestock grazing; wildfire; and weed infestation," according to the report, which was released in March.

The solar project, the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone (SEZ), will occupy 15,649 acres 15 miles northeast of Las Vegas, roughly 60 miles south of Bunkerville.

In preparation for the mitigation strategy report for Dry Lake, the BLM held four workshops, which featured a presentation by Brightsource Energy, a politically connected solar company that received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department for a solar farm in California.

Brightsource CEO John Woolard has visited the White House 10 times since Obama took office, and held a fundraiser and donated $2,400 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) in 2010.

The "Redefining Mitigation: Solar Industry View" presentation was delivered by Clay Jensen of Brightsource on Aug. 29, 2012. Jensen discussed mitigation efforts for "maximizing land efficiency" and "minimizing footprint."

Another presentation, by Michael Dwyer of the BLM, on an action plan for Dry Lake referenced the 1992 book Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future by Donella H. Meadows. Dwyer is the project manager for the Dry Lake zone.

The book’s premise is: "If the world settles for two children per couple and the per capita income of South Korea, we can avoid collapse and find an equilibrium at 7.7 billion people through 2100."

Another solar project was proposed just north of the Bundy Ranch, in Lincoln County.

The East Mormon Mountain SEZ, which would have been built on 8,968 acres just 13 miles northwest of Bunkerville, was eliminated in the 2012 final environmental impact statement because of "visual impacts" of a solar plant on the landscape of the Mormon Mountains.

The proposed project was also canceled due to concerns that the Gourd Springs grazing allotment, located just north of Clark County, would be reduced by 9.1 percent.

The allotment was "previously reduced" by 38,262 acres, or 40 percent, in September 2000 to protect the desert tortoise.

"Because the SEZ would occupy the best grazing land in the allotment, it is likely that the grazing operation would become economically infeasible and all 3,458 AUMs currently authorized would be lost," the BLM said.

However, environmentalist groups pushed for the solar project to go ahead as planned.

The Wilderness Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club–Toiyabe Chapter, and others supported the project.

While no solar projects have yet been approved on public land near the Bundy ranch, John Hinderaker, a lawyer and author of the Powerline blog, has argued that the administration prioritizes green energy projects over public land ranchers. Bundy is the last rancher in Clark County, and only three ranchers remain in all of Southern Nevada.

"It is obvious that some activities are favored by the Obama administration’s BLM, and others are disfavored," Hinderaker wrote. "The favored developments include solar and wind projects. No surprise there: the developers of such projects are invariably major Democratic Party donors. Wind and solar energy survive only by virtue of federal subsidies, so influencing people like Barack Obama and Harry Reid is fundamental to the developers’ business plans."

"Ranchers, on the other hand, ask nothing from the federal government other than the continuation of their historic rights," he wrote. "It is a safe bet that Cliven Bundy is not an Obama or Reid contributor."

When asked by the Free Beacon whether land ranched by the Bundys could be used for solar developments in the future, BLM spokesman Leff did not respond.

Cliven Bundy’s racist comments reported by the New York Times on Wednesday, have now alienated his supporters and were denounced by Sen. Dean Heller (R., Nev.) and others who were concerned about how the BLM handled the operation.