Court rejects challenge to Calif. wind farm

Source: By Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, September 23, 2019

Federal judges today dismissed a challenge to a large wind farm near San Diego, rejecting claims that agencies did not adequately weigh potential impacts on bald eagles and other birds.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management conducted the legally required “hard look” at alternatives before approving the Tule Wind LLC project.

Tule Wind plans to build 85 wind turbines about 60 miles east of San Diego. The project was split into two phases: The first contains 65 turbines on federal land, and the second 20 turbines on tribal land.

It has spurred multiple lawsuits from the Protect Our Communities Foundation and local advocates contending that the turbines will damage the bald and golden eagle populations. Each challenge has been unsuccessful (Greenwire, June 8, 2016).

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit today said that despite the challengers’ claims, the agencies had appropriately examined alternatives under the National Environmental Policy Act, including ultimately reducing the number of turbines permitted.

“What is troubling about this case is that it appears that, if and when the project proceeds, some eagles may die or have their nests impaired diminishing reproduction,” wrote Judge Ronald Gould for the unanimous three-judge panel.

“But the protections given by our environmental laws are not absolute,” he added.

The case centered on charges that the environmental impact statement and a supplemental document had not adequately analyzed alternatives that would mitigate the impacts on birds.

Judges rejected each claim, saying appropriate analysis was conducted by the agencies.

“We hold that the alternatives analysis was also sufficient as to BIA’s approval.”

The project originally called for 128 wind turbines. In the permitting process, the agencies required the company to nix more than 30 of those.