Oregon environmentalists won reinstatement of their challenge to a wind-energy development that they say the Bureau of Land Management approved without adequately addressing harm to the greater sage grouse.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday ruled the BLM failed to adequately assess the baseline sage grouse numbers during the winter and ordered the case revived and returned to Judge Michael Mosman in Portland.
“Renewable energy projects, although critical to the effort to combat climate change, can have significant adverse environmental impacts, just as other large-scale developments do,” wrote Judge Marsha Berzon.
The Echanis Wind Energy Project is a 104-megawatt wind energy facility, with 50 to 70 turbines, that would be built on 10,000 acres of private land on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. It is in the same county as the Malheur National Forest, which gained national fame when anti-government protesters took over a facility there.
Columbia Energy Partners won a permit from Harney County to develop the project and a 20-year agreement to sell wind energy. The right-of-way for transmission crosses public land overseen by the BLM, making it subject to environmental review.
The Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) and the Portland Audubon Society sued the BLM, the county and the owner of the project after it received transmission approval through an area of sagebrush needed by the grouse.
The BLM chose a transmission route that crossed Steens Mountain, where there are some of the last contiguous sagebrush habitat essential for the long-term survival of the greater sage-grouse, according to the court.
The grouse is a large bird that relies on sagebrush for survival. It’s numbers have been declining since the 1950s and are down 45 to 80 percent in some areas, the court said.
ONDA argued that the BLM review failed to comply with the National Environamental Policy Act, (NEPA), because the BLM failed to assess the baseline conditions for the sage grouse’s winter habitat in the area.
“The inaccurate information and unsupported assumption materially impeded informed decisionmaking and public participation,” Berzone wrote.
The dismissal of the lawsuit was overturned and the case was sent back to the Oregon count.
Case: ONDA v. Jewell, No. 13-36078