For immediate release – April 19, 2011
Contacts: Michael Connor, Western Watersheds Project, (818) 345-0425
LOS ANGELES —The Bureau of Land Management has ordered BrightSource Energy to suspend new fence building and desert tortoise removal on two of the three phases of the solar power plant they are constructing on public lands in California’s North Ivanpah Valley. Western Watersheds Project filed suit in federal court on January 14, 2011 to halt construction of the massive power plant that would be built on 5.4 square miles of important, high quality habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. The Bureau’s action follows an April 7, 2011 order from a federal Judge that lifted a stay on motions being filed to stop the project.
“The Department of Interior was tasked with siting energy projects in an environmentally sound manner. Instead, the BLM roared ahead to push through this project using an environmental review that seriously underestimated the impacts to the desert tortoise”, said Michael Connor, California Director for Western Watersheds Project. “Now, as a direct result of that rushed and flawed analysis, BLM has had to suspend construction on parts of the site because they underestimated the number of tortoises present by a factor of four and have exceeded the take limits laid down by the Fish and Wildlife Service”.
Threatened by habitat loss, habitat degradation, disease, and predation, the Mojave population of the desert tortoise was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. Since then, populations have continued to decline. The Ivanpah Valley is home to the most genetically distinct of the five recognized California desert tortoise populations. Desert tortoises on the Ivanpah power plant site are one of the highest elevation breeding populations known, and the area provides essential habitat connectivity through the mountain passes to desert tortoise populations in the neighboring valleys.
“Despite repeated requests, the agencies never determined how many desert tortoises were on the site, nor did they determine what impact blocking the north Ivanpah Valley with an industrial-scale power plant would have on connectivity between desert tortoise populations,” said Connor. “We want to see construction halted on the entire project site. No more desert tortoises should be killed and no more desert tortoise habitat obliterated pending completion of an adequate environmental review that really looks at the impacts.”
The 1.7 billion dollar Ivanpah power plant project is being underwritten with $1.3 billion in federal loan guarantees and “economic stimulus” funds. Secretary of the Interior Salazar approved the project in October, 2010.
Western Watersheds Project’s mission is to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife on public lands throughout the American west through education, research, public policy initiatives and litigation. Western Watersheds Project has offices in six western states including California.
Download the BLM’s Decision
Western Watersheds Project’s Complaint