Judges toss enviro challenge to San Diego turbines

Source: Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, November 20, 2015

Federal judges yesterday rejected an environmental challenge to a major wind farm in Southern California.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that environmental groups including the Desert Protective Council had not shown that the Bureau of Land Management acted arbitrarily in greenlighting the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility project in the desert east of San Diego.

BLM in May 2012 signed off on San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group Inc.’s plan to build 112 wind turbines on more than 10,000 acres of federal land.

Environmental groups quickly sued to block construction of the project, but that effort was dismissed in federal district court.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit today affirmed that decision in one of several cases challenging the wind farm. It did not rule in the other cases.

In a short order, the three-judge panel said BLM did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, as the environmentalists claimed, because BLM “sufficiently evaluated and disclosed the environmental impacts of the Ocotillo wind energy project.”

The Desert Protective Council’s case was one of three involving the Ocotillo project. The 9th Circuit heard arguments in all of them less than three weeks ago.

Each case raises environmental concerns about the impact of the project on wildlife, as well as BLM’s decision to grant the right of way to build the project on public lands (E&ENews PM, Nov. 3).

The Desert Protective Council case specifically questioned BLM’s reliance on 34 studies on raptors to evaluate the project’s impact on all birds.

But the 9th Circuit said the group failed to raise those concerns in the administrative process before suing. The court similarly deferred to BLM’s decisionmaking in granting the right of way for the project.

The wind farm went online in December 2012 and has been touted by the Obama administration as one of the roughly 60 renewable energy projects it has approved. The administration’s goal is 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects by the end of the year.

Click here for the ruling.