Monday, June 23, 2008

BLM leaves Reid out of the loop

BLM leaves Reid out of the loop

He learns of big delay for new solar plants in region from the paper

Before bureaucrats slammed the door for almost two
years on new solar plants on 119 million acres of federal land they manage in six western states, they might have mentioned it to Harry Reid.

You know, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader who represents a state that has been called the Saudi Arabia of solar, the senior senator from the state with 67 percent of its land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, which implemented the freeze.

But in this case, the BLM must have lost Reid’s number.

“We read it in (Wednesday) morning’s paper,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers wrote in an e-mail, referring to a Sun story about solar developers protesting a delay they say could break the back of the nascent industry here and in the rest of the Southwest.

The freeze is in effect while the BLM studies the environmental effects of solar development in Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. The bureau has accepted about 130 applications, including 23 in Clark and Nye counties, to build solar plants on one million acres of public land in the six states.

Summers said Thursday it’s typical for the congressional delegation of affected states to get a heads up from BLM before such a sweeping policy decision is made. In fact, Summers said, there is frequent collaboration between the Nevada senator’s office and the agency charged with stewardship of 48 million acres of Nevada land.

What we had here, however, was a failure to communicate.

And judging by a Wednesday statement from his office, Reid might have had a thing or two to say about a moratorium on solar applications.

“This ... is the wrong signal to send to solar power developers, and to Nevadans and Westerners who need and want clean, affordable sun-powered electricity soon,” Reid said in the statement. “While the BLM’s proposed delay won’t affect developers with existing applications, it could discourage or slow new development to a crawl.

“This administration should be reprogramming funds urgently so BLM can complete its regulations and work through its application backlog. Right now, the administration’s misplaced higher priority seems to be aimed at fossil fuels. That’s not good for Nevada or for the nation.”

Summers said Reid’s office would send a letter to BLM Director Jim Caswell objecting to the freeze and inquiring as to how the communication breakdown occurred.

The BLM’s Linda Resseguie, who conducted meetings last week across the Southwest to gather public comment on the study, said typically the bureau notifies the affected committees — in this case the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Natural Resources — the day before a study is announced so they aren’t taken by surprise by a flood of constituent calls.

Resseguie said she thought a BLM staffer gave a news release announcing the study and mentioning the 22-month moratorium to committee members’ offices the day before it was sent to media on May 29.

Calls to the offices of several committee members were not returned by press time, so it was unclear whether they received the early notice.

As for the decision itself, Resseguie said “it was a BLM decision, but the Department (of the Interior) was consulted.”

“As far as discussing or debating the merits of a freeze with the congressional delegation before we took that administrative action, I am fairly certain that did not occur,” Resseguie said.

She said it is possible the BLM would reconsider the freeze.

“Policies can always be influenced,” she said.

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