The federal government in the last days of the Trump administration is making efforts to increase renewable-energy development and other uses in Western deserts, drawing fire from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who said she will work to nullify the proposal.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Jan. 14 released a draft environmental impact statement and plan amendment for three subplans that are under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. A public comment period ends on April 15. BLM said it is proposing targeted amendments to the California Desert Conservation Area Plan, the Bakersfield Resource Management Plan, and the Bishop Resource Management Plan.
"It does not make sense that every renewable energy project on public lands in California would likely require a resource plan amendment to simply move forward," Deputy Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor said in a written statement. "The previous plan made only 4% of 10.8 million acres managed by the BLM available as renewable energy development focus areas. This proposal will add over 800,000 acres for renewable energy development and create a more measured approach to foster responsible off-highway vehicle recreation, rural broadband, and other important multiple-use projects—including those needed to meet California's renewable energy mandates."
BLM said the amendments are intended to promote economic growth, support broadband infrastructure development, increase public access, and allow for greater management flexibility for the country to meet its energy needs.
The agency said the amendments will provide flexibility and streamlining for the siting of renewable energy development within designated focus areas to help California meet its renewables portfolio standard goals. The amendments will increase opportunities for multiple uses within the planning area for broadband infrastructure, mining and minerals development, rights of way, rangeland and livestock grazing, recreation and public access. BLM said it carefully evaluated the existing Conservation and Management Actions in the planning area and as a result, it is proposing to modify the CMAs that it says overly restrict access to public lands, don't conform with current policy or have been identified as inappropriate.
In addition to the CMA changes, BLM is also proposing modifications to the conservation allocations within the planning area, including Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and California Desert National Conservation Lands.
The ACEC modifications are intended to simplify management by reducing overlapping designations where appropriate, such as wilderness designations, and to ensure the ACEC designation is necessary for the management of a resource. The ACEC evaluation carefully considered federally and state-listed species and areas of cultural importance, BLM said.
Feinstein blasted the proposal in a written statement, calling it a last-ditch effort by the Trump administration to amend the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, that puts at risk 2.2 million acres set aside for conservation. The plan covers more than 10 million acres and was finalized in 2016 after eight years of negotiations and it properly balances energy development and recreational uses while protecting ecologically significant areas, she said.
"The proposed changes are designed to significantly reduce federally designated conservation lands protections and potentially open that land up to mining or other industry uses," Feinstein said. "Californians have made it clear that is not what we want in our desert."
She said she will work with President-elect Joe Biden to block the rule when he takes office. There is no reason to amend the plan, she said.
The draft EIS and draft plan amendment can be viewed and comments submitted on the BLM website. Comments may also be submitted by mail to BLM-CA Desert Plan Amendment, 2800 Cottage Way, Rm W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825.