Enviro group argues issues over Ivanpah impacts on tortoises

Environmental group Western Watersheds Project (WWP) took its case against the Ivanpah solar power project to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the U.S. Bureau of Land Management erred in saying the project was safe enough in terms of the desert tortoise.

The group had lost a summary judgment motion in this matter at the District Court level, so in January 2013 it took the matter to the appeals court. In a reply brief filed on Jan. 29, the group said that the District Court abused its discretion in dismissing Western Watersheds’ challenge to defendant-appellee BLM’s approval of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Project (ISEG).

“BLM approved the Project proposed by intervenor-appellee BrightSource Energy, Inc. (‘BSE’) (collectively with BLM, ‘appellees’) without first conducting an adequate environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act,” the Jan. 29 filing said.

The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) done by the bureau on this project violates NEPA because it ignores the fact that the project will kill hundreds of protected juvenile tortoises, the brief said. In fact, including juveniles, up to 1,136 tortoises inhabit the project site and would be killed, injured or displaced by the project. “The FEIS never told the public that the Project will kill hundreds of juveniles,” said the environmental group.

It said this appeals court must reverse the District Court’s order denying plaintiff its motion for summary judgment.

BrightSource, in a Dec. 13, 2013, brief in this case, noted about its 370-MW project: “When fully operational at the end of this year, ISEGS will be the largest concentrated solar energy generator in the United States. It will provide clean, solar-powered electricity to more than 130,000 homes, while eliminating more than 400,000 tons of carbon emissions that would have otherwise been generated to produce the same amount of energy from carbon-based generating plants – the equivalent of taking more than 70,000 cars off the road.”

BrightSource added: “This matter has previously been before the Court on WWP’s appeal of the district court’s denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction. This Court affirmed the lower court’s order in a published decision issued on August 10, 2012. While WWP’s first appeal was pending, the case proceeded to the merits. On October 14, 2011, WWP filed its motion for summary judgment. Federal Appellees and BSE each filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on November 4, 2011. WWP filed a joint response in opposition and reply in support of its motion on November 29, 2011, and the district court heard argument on January 27, 2012. By order dated November 5, 2012, the district court denied WWP’s motion and granted Federal Appellees’ and BSE’s cross motions.”

As reflected in its statement of the issues, WWP challenges only the district court’s ruling on some claims brought under NEPA, BrightSource added. “WWP has abandoned all other claims, including some NEPA claims, and claims based on the Endangered Species Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act,” it said.

BrightSource said the NEPA review done by the bureau did consider tortoise impacts. “As a result of BLM’s concerns about these and other potential effects, when BLM issued its [record of decision], it imposed a comprehensive set of ‘measures, terms, and conditions’ to ensure that the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of ISEGS would be minimal, while still allowing the Project to produce 370 MW of clean, solar-powered electricity for delivery to customers in California.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.