Project would be on nearly 13,000 acres of private grazing land
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A federal judge has cleared the way for an energy developer to build a road and underground power lines across public land as part of a wind turbine project in California.
Environmental groups tried to stop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from granting a right-of-way to the energy developer, arguing the 100-turbine project near Bakersfield, Calif., would harm endangered birds like the California condor.
The wind project would be on nearly 13,000 acres of private land that's currently used for livestock grazing and other purposes, but environmentalists claimed the road and the project are interdependent.
The BLM refused to analyze the broader impacts of the wind project, finding that the installation of turbines was separate and independent of the 10-mile road and power line project.
According to the agency, the wind project could proceed regardless of the right-of-way on public land because the developer could still build a 28-mile route that would cross private land.
Environmentalists claimed the longer access route was unrealistic because the energy developer hadn't actually secured permission from the large number of landowners to use their properties.
The groups argued BLM violated environmental laws by failing to consider the full scope of the wind project, which would be made possible by the access route across public land.
BLM could have won concessions from the developer, North Sky River Energy, by using the right-of-way as a bargaining chip in negotiations, the plaintiffs said.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii rejected the argument that this kind of tactic amounted to control over the developer's actions.
"In this court's view, agency discretion must refer to something more than the ability to play a good hand of poker," he said.
The facts support BLM's decision that the wind project could be constructed regardless of the right-of-way across public land, Ishii said.
Though the longer access route would have been more costly and burdensome for the developer, there's no evidence the company "would have abandoned the project in the absence of BLM's grant of right-of-way," he said.