Greens Fight Mojave Desert Solar Plant

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Sierra Club asked a federal judge to block a 4,600-acre solar power plant planned for the Mojave Desert, claiming it will endanger golden eagles and the desert tortoise.
     Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife say federal approval of the Calico Solar Power violates environmental laws; they also challenge an assessment of the project's impacts on the two species.
     Named as defendants are the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and its Director Robert Abbey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Director Daniel Ashe, the U.S. Department of the Interior and Secretary Ken Salazar.
     "The Calico Solar Project is a 4,604-acre utility-scale solar development slated for public lands in the Mojave Desert east of Barstow, California," the complaint states. "The project site is comprised of lands identified by FWS as high-value habitat for the federally threatened desert tortoise located in the Pisgah Valley, a region which serves as a wildlife movement corridor for desert tortoise critical to recovery of the species. BLM and FWS have also identified the project lands as foraging habitat for golden eagles, a California fully protected species that is also protected under BGEPA [Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act]. In evaluating the project's impacts on desert tortoises and golden eagles, BLM and FWS ignored relevant scientific information, failed to fully and accurately assess some impacts and wholly overlooked others, and failed to determine whether proposed mitigation plans would effectively ameliorate adverse impacts."
     The Sierra Club seeks an injunction and asks the court to vacate the BLM's approval of the project and the Fish and Wildlife Service's statement in support of it.
     The National Resources Defense Council filed a similar complaintthe same day. It accused the same defendants of threatening "many other rare and sensitive plant and animal species" and said the FWS "relied heavily on a methodology known to grossly undercount desert tortoise populations and on mitigation measures that will kill many tortoises they are intended to save."
     The NRDC complaint says the BLM has allocated 1.3 million acres for solar energy, and plans to approve projects on 139,000 acres in the Mojave Desert. So far, the BLM has approved seven solar projects on nearly 38,000 acres, according to the complaint.
     The BLM rejected an alternative private site for the Calico project in a less environmentally sensitive area, the Sierra Club says in its complaint.
     The Mojave population of the desert tortoise is a threatened species, found north and west of the Colorado River in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
     The golden eagle population in California is unknown, but the FWS estimates there only 30,000 left in the country, with many populations in decline, according to the Sierra Club's complaint.
     "What's frustrating about the Calico solar project is that the developer and the Bureau of Land Management can avoid the worst impacts to wildlife by being 'smart from the start' and moving the project to degraded agricultural lands near the proposed site," Defenders of Wildlife's California program director Kim Delfino said in statement. "If this project moves forward at this location, Calico will irreversibly harm the sensitive Pisgah Valley and the desert tortoise."
     Sierra Club's senior attorney Gloria Smith filed suit for violations of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.