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BLM won’t allow new mining claims on lands tagged for solar

Posted 7/30/2013

by Scott Streater, E&E reporter
E&E News

The Bureau of Land Management announced today that it has withdrawn more than 300,000 acres of federal land in six Western states from new mining claims in an effort to preserve the lands for commercial-scale solar energy development.

All 303,900 acres are in one of 17 solar energy zones (SEZs) established last fall by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The SEZs are part of a programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) that identified more than a quarter-million acres of public lands in the six states where commercial-scale projects would be most suitable.

BLM published the decision today in a notice in the Federal Register.

Today’s public land order finalizes the withdrawal of the lands. BLM announced in April that it was proposing to withdraw the areas from new mining claims for at least 20 years in an effort to facilitate fast-tracked solar energy development inside the SEZs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The latest order amends an interim rule adopted in April 2011 that granted BLM authority to impose a two-year ban on new mining claims on lands included in a renewable energy right-of-way application or areas offered for wind or solar energy leases (Greenwire, April 26, 2011).

“The Public Land Order protects the integrity of the Solar Energy Zones and helps us meet President Obama’s goal of green-lighting enough private renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020,” BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze said today in a statement.

Obama last week announced a far-ranging plan to combat climate change in which he challenged the Interior Department to approve an additional 10,000 MW of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020.

That effort, the president said, would not only increase the amount of energy that the United States generates from clean energy sources and help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but give American businesses a boost in the global race to lead the clean energy economy (E&E Daily, June 26).

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said earlier this week that Interior has “embraced” the president’s challenge.

While the land withdrawals would not affect valid existing claims in the areas that are protected under the General Mining Act of 1872, mining companies have complained in recent years about what they see as a proliferation of withdrawals of public land.

The National Mining Association has expressed concerns about withdrawing the lands in question and the possible impacts to valid mining claims.

But the withdrawal of the more than 300,000 acres continues the Obama administration’s efforts to use federal land to develop clean, renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and geothermal power.

Most of the public land to be withdrawn is in California, covering more than 159,000 acres, according to BLM.

The agency has already made moves to advance development within the SEZs.

In March, BLM announced it was seeking interested solar power developers to submit proposals for commercial-scale projects inside two SEZs covering 3,714 acres of federal land in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Overall, the Obama administration since 2009 has approved 46 solar, wind and geothermal power projects covering nearly 300,000 acres of federal land with a total capacity, if built, to produce more than 13,000 MW of electricity — enough to power nearly 4.5 million homes.

The administration’s renewable energy development efforts have been so successful to date that Interior last year announced it had already met a goal established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to approve roughly 10,000 MW of nonhydropower renewable energy projects on federal land by 2015.

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