Mojave Watch Opposes Yellow Pine Solar Project in Nevada's Mojave Desert
Mojave Watch has submitted a letter opposing the Yellow Pine Solar Project during the BLM's public comment period on the projects Environmental Impact Statement.
“The BLM actively supports the Department of the Interior’s America First Energy Plan, an ‘all of the above’ strategy which supports energy development on public lands” said Acting BLM Southern Nevada District Manager Gera Ashton. “We look forward to receiving public input on the Yellow Pine Solar Project as we continue to evaluate this project.”
"It's clear from Ashton's comments that the BLM has thrown out all considerations for environmental stewardship of the lands they manage on the public's behalf," responded Mojave Watch Director Steve Brown. "Ashton notes the BLM's blanket support for these kinds of projects, and then notes the BLM looks forward to the public's input as almost an afterthought. Why doesn't the BLM note their blanket support for protecting threatened species, ancient desert plants, historic viewsheds and invaluable habitat? Because, under the current administration, they're not important."
The Yellow Pine Solar Project would be constructed on approximately 3,000 acres of public lands, and after construction would only employ about 10 people. The project is located 32 miles west of Las Vegas along Nevada State Route 160 at Tecopa Road in Clark County. The nearest community is Pahrump, about 10 miles to the northwest.
"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no public meetings - live events or virtual meetings - have been held, severely limiting public input and awareness of this project," Brown noted. "This is unacceptable. When there is limited public involvement in the vetting process for these projects, industry always benefits, and the public's interest becomes muted."
Yellow Pine Solar Project's documentation can be accessed HERE.
Basin and Range Watch has an excellent page on the project HERE.
Mojave Watch's letter:
To: Email: email@example.com
Attn: Herman Pinales
BLM Las Vegas Field Office
4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89130
RE: The Yello Pine Solar Project
I request that the BLM please select a No Action Alternative for the Yellow Pine Solar Project and designate the region a large-scale solar energy-free zone with a Plan Amendment to the 1998 Las Vegas Resource Management Plan. Approval of the project would result in the removal of over 3,000 acres or 4.6 square miles of good quality desert tortoise habitat. The desert tortoise is federally Threatened and is losing habitat throughout its range. It may need to be up-listed to Endangered status with the cumulative developments happening on its habitat. There are no peer-reviewed studies that show that vegetation mowing and allowing desert tortoises to re-enter a site with solar panels has long-term success. Based on population estimates, approximately 53 adult desert tortoises, 276 subadults or juveniles, and 69 hatchlings are anticipated to be displaced or killed by project-related construction activities via translocation. That is unacceptable. Vegetation mowing will have very big impacts. All vegetation will be cut. Burrowing animals would be killed and deafened. Many of the estimated 398 desert tortoises would be missed and killed. Biological soil crusts would be destroyed. Invasive annual weeds would move in on the mowed site. While tortoises would be allowed to re-enter the site (theoretically), they could be killed by operation and maintenance activities because vehicles will enter the habitat for maintenance. Shade from solar panels could inhibit tortoises coming out of hibernation in late winter and spring. The project would destroy 92,930 Mojave yuccas, many hundreds of years old. This is also unacceptable, and unnecessary. A supplemental EIS is required because the BLM has not fully reviewed the full range of alternatives. The BLM should review off-site alternatives. Eighteen Solar Energy Zones were designated on BLM lands in the west in 2012. The Zones were created to site energy in areas that have lesser conflicts than the Yellow Pine Solar site. The BLM should review a reduced footprint alternative which minimizes the impacts to the desert tortoise. The BLM should review a distributed generation alternative, or alternatives, as this project is not needed when it comes with these negative impacts. The project site lies on one of the most undisturbed habitats in the Mojave Desert. It contains biological soil crusts and a large list of native Mojave Desert species. It is home to sensitive species like the burrowing owl, kit fox, the American badger and the Gila monster. Again, the negative impacts to these species is unnecessary and unacceptable. The negative impacts to this habitat will be permanent, while the project life will be around 20 years. This level of negative impact for temporary use makes no sense. The project would be near part of the historic Old Spanish Trail. The massive build-out of solar panels, new roads and transmission lines will permanently destroy the historic and wild character of the area. As a desert journalist; a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association; a historian; the former president of the state-recognized regional destination marketing organization, the California Deserts Visitors Association; and, a travel and tourism professional, I object to the degradation of our historic trails that the BLM is supposed to safeguard. Permanently degrading this landscape is inexcusable. The region's Visual Class is VRM Class III. The management objective of VRM Class III is to partially retain the character of the landscape. This should require a Land Use Plan Amendment for the 1998 Las Vegas Resource Management plan and give the public a full 90 day comment period. A large-scale solar project of this size only creates about 5-15 full-time jobs. It is stunning that the BLM would even consider approval of a project that creates this large of a negative impact on the lands it manages for us, the public, with such a minor gain. There are readily available alternative sites for energy generation that, while not as inexpensive because they are not being subsidized by the American people so corporations can better profit, also come with far less of a negative impact. Alternatives need to be considered that are compatible with preserving this habitat, which is a finite resource. Several thousand acres of land are being developed in the Las Vegas Valley for new housing. The amount of space located on the rooftops and over parking lots provides a more efficient alternative for solar panels, and eliminates the need for costly transmission lines. This easily justifies a No Action Alternative for the Yellow Pine Solar Project." I strongly object to this project as proposed, and support a No Action Alternative for the Yellow Pine Solar Project. Sincerely, Steve Brown Director, Mojave Watch www.mojavewatch.org