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BLM Announces Extension of Public Comment Period for Draft Solar Programmatic EIS

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., March 11, 2011

In furtherance of efforts to promote solar development on nearly 700,000 acres of government land, on March 7, 2011, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), announced a 30-day extension of the public comment period for the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States (Draft Solar Programmatic EIS).

BLM and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are each considering taking actions to facilitate solar energy development. BLM has proposed the establishment of a Solar Energy Program applicable to utility-scale solar energy development on BLM-administered lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. DOE has proposed the development of programmatic guidance to further integrate environmental considerations into its analysis and selection of DOE-supported solar projects. Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable authorities, the two agencies have jointly prepared the Draft Solar Programmatic EIS to evaluate the environmental, social, and economic effects of the agencies’ proposed actions and alternatives.

In recent years, BLM has begun to receive a substantial number of applications for right-of-way authorizations for solar facilities proposed to be located on BLM-administered lands. In pursuing the Draft Programmatic EIS, BLM seeks - among other things - to standardize and streamline the authorization process. In connection with that effort, the program would identify locations best suited for utility-scale production of solar energy, called “solar energy zones” (SEZs), in which development would be prioritized. The Draft Solar Programmatic EIS identifies approximately 677,400 acres of proposed SEZs, out of a total of 22 million acres of public lands, that would be available for potential development under the program.

Other elements of the Solar Energy Program would include: (1) identification of lands excluded from utility-scale solar energy development in the six states covered by the program; (2) establishment of mitigation requirements for solar energy development on public lands (including SEZ-specific requirements); and (3) amendment of BLM land use plans in the six-state area to adopt those elements of the program that pertain to planning.

As a result of the extension, interested parties may now submit comments on the Draft Solar Programmatic EIS until April 16, 2011.

For further information, please contact Stephen Richmond at srichmond@bdlaw.com or Edward Grauman at egrauman@bdlaw.com