Court OKs Solar-Project Expansion on Tortoise Habitat

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Ninth Circuit rejected a claim Thursday that the federal government approved a giant expansion of solar project at the California-Nevada border without considering its impact on the Mojave Desert tortoise.

The Defenders of Wildlife in 2013 asked a federal court to block the 2,400-acre expansion of the Silver State South facility on tortoise habitat in Ivanpah Valley, in the far eastern reaches of San Bernardino County.

But U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald found that environmental review of the impact on the tortoise did not violate the Endangered Species Act or the Administrative Procedures Act, as the group claimed.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the ruling Thursday, finding Fitzgerald properly granted summary judgment to the Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

The group said the government’s reliance on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion was “arbitrary and capricious” and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act.

But the government said it had spent five years studying the environmental impacts of the project, which is now complete.

Silver State Solar Power South told the Ninth Circuit at a February hearing this year that the acreage of the project was reduced by 37 percent and is 2 to 3 miles away from critical habitat.

Ninth Circuit Judge Milan Smith’s opinion was joined by Ninth Circuit Judge John Owens and U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, from the Eastern District of New York, sitting by designation.

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