Ninth Circuit faults BLM environmental review of Oregon wind project

A three-judge panel for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has, in a May 26 opinion, found flaws in the environmental review that the Interior Department Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did for the Columbia Energy Partners Echanis Wind Energy Project.

The Echanis Wind Energy Project is a 104-MW wind energy facility that would be constructed on a 10,500-acre privately-owned tract on Steens Mountain in Harney County, Oregon.

The panel reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action challenging under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) a wind-energy development project on the ground that the BLM’s environmental review of the project did not adequately address impacts to the greater sage grouse.

The panel held that BLM’s review did not adequately assess baseline sage grouse numbers during winter at the proposed Echanis wind energy facility in Harney County, Oregon.

The panel also held that the BLM’s error was not harmless. Accordingly, the panel reversed the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the BLM, Harney County, and Columbia Energy Partners, the project developer, as to that issue.

The panel also held that because plaintiffs did not bring the issue of inter-population or genetic connectivity between sage grouse populations to the BLM’s attention during the environmental review process, the issue was not exhausted and is not now subject to review. 

Columbia Energy Partners received a conditional use permit from Harney County to develop the Project, commissioned several studies of the Project, and secured a 20-year agreement to sell energy generated by the wind facility.

The case is Oregon Natural Desert Association; Audubon Society of Portland versus Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Columbia Energy Partners LLC; Harney County; No. 13-36078, D.C. No.3:12-cv-00596-MO.

The case was appealed from the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. It was argued before the Ninth Circuit on March 10. Circuit Judges Raymond C. Fisher, Marsha S. Berzon, and Paul J. Watford heard the appeals court case. Judge Berzon drafted the appeals court opinion.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.