Basin & Range Watch Sues Bureau of Land Management for Withholding Bird Mortality Information
September 1, 2016 - Update: article in EENEWS http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060042210
February 29, 2016 - Basin and Range Watch filed suit last Friday under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain documents that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has refused to disclose about bird mortality during a testing phase for the Crescent Dunes Solar Project, a concentrated solar energy power tower located just north of Tonopah, Nevada, which went on line this month. Basin and Range Watch supports renewable energy, but also seeks transparency in government and an open public dialog about solar project impacts on public land that receive public funds.
Basin and Range Watch submitted a FOIA request to BLM one year ago requesting public disclosure of bird mortality and mitigation data for the Crescent Dunes Solar Project. This was about one month after 130 birds were witnessed and filmed “vaporizing” in the heat of a large halo shaped solar flux which was the result of thousands of heliostats (mirrors) reflecting the sun’s heat on the receiver tower during a test on January 14, 2015. The project was built entirely on public land managed by the BLM and received a $730 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010.
Although BLM released some documents nearly ten months after Basin and Range Watch’s initial FOIA request, it withheld documents that describe how BLM will insure that the project’s owner, Solar Reserve, will prevent similar bird kills in the future. Although Solar Reserve claims to have solved the bird mortality problem, BLM continues to withhold important information about how the agency is carrying out its role in overseeing the project on public land.
“This is an issue of transparency and public accountability” said Dave Becker, a Portland, Oregon-based attorney who represents Basin and Range Watch. “FOIA requires full and prompt disclosure of information about how BLM is making sure that projects built on public land with public funding do not do serious damage to public resources.”
Without the full disclosure to the public of the documents that Basin and Range Watch requested, BLM and the project developer are effectively managing the project's right-of-way over public lands in secret. Basin and Range Watch seeks full government disclosure of information significant to conservation of desert resources. Basin and Range Watch fully supports solar power as a renewable energy source that moves the nation away from dirty fossil fuels, but we also seek to attain the best possible solar options that have the least impacts to the environment. Without the fully-informed public accountability that FOIA is meant to insure, it is less likely that the BLM will take the steps necessary to minimize harm to birds from these projects.
“Since the project is built entirely on public land managed by the BLM, and taxpayers paid the bill for the $730 million Department of Energy loan, we would think providing transparency is the least BLM could do. If the problem has really been solved, what’s the big secret?” said Kevin Emmerich, Co-Founder of plaintiff Basin and Range Watch.
Basin and Range Watch is also represented in its suit by attorneys Dave Bahr in Eugene, Oregon, and Christopher Mixson of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman, & Rabkin, LLP, in Reno, Nevada.
The complaint can be viewed here: FOIA Complaint.