The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1788

Nevada standoff: Yes, it’s solar-industry cronies (but NOT the Chinese)

My colleague Renee Nal pointed out yesterday that the federal government itself has been complicit in plans to euthanize hundreds of Desert Tortoises, the endangered species supposedly at the center of the just-ended cattle-ranch standoff in Nevada.

Desert solar

That’s one part of a bigger picture involving the corruption-ridden, taxpayer-dependent solar industry.  But this story isn’t the one you may have seen already, about Harry Reid and the Chinese energy firm ENN.  I actually think that story is off-base, as we’ll see below.  What the hounding of Cliven Bundy is about instead is the interests involved in a solar farm that is connected with the grazing area for Cliven Bundy’s cattle.

There’s a whole separate argument to be made about property rights, size of government, government versus the property owner, etc.  Along with Kevin D. Williamson, who has put a nice downpayment on that discussion at National Review, LU’s Nate and Renee (again) have put down markers.  More on this in the days ahead.

But this other matter needs to be addressed first.  There’s been a widely disseminated report (see link above) that the Bundy family is being hounded with special vigor right now because of a solar-farm project involving Chinese firm ENN, whose chief counsel in the USA is Harry Reid’s son, Rory Reid.  Much of the background reporting in that story is correct, including the fact that the Bureau of Land Management’s current director moved to that job from a position on Harry Reid’s staff.  The BLM study objecting to the Bundy cattle, and tying it to a “mitigation proposal” for solar-energy projects, is also relevant.

It’s just not relevant to the Chinese-backed solar project.  ENN dropped that project in June of 2013.  It’s no longer an active proposal, nor does the area for the project fall within one of the 17 “solar energy zones” (SEZs) designated by the Department of the Interior in 2012.

Moreover, the ENN project was unrelated to Cliven Bundy’s grazing easement on federal lands.  Its proposed location was down by Laughlin, well to the south of Gold Butte, the federal-lands area where multiple interests have been clashing with the Bundy family’s for the last 20 years.  See map 1.

Solar energy project areas in southern Nevada. (Google map; author annotation)

Map 1. Solar energy project areas in southern Nevada. (Google map; author annotation)

Mitigation for solar energy projects

The hinge-point of this investigation is, however, the “mitigation” project for Gold Butte, which lies just south of Bunkerville, Nevada.  A swath of northern Gold Butte is where the Bundy cattle graze.  BLM designated Gold Butte an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC) in 1998.  It’s one of several ACECs in Nevada.  Two of them are visible in red on Map 2 below:  the Gold Butte ACEC (the larger one to the east), and the Coyote Springs ACEC (the smaller one to the west).

BLM map of environmentally critical areas around the Dry Lake SEZ. ("Regional Mitigation Strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone"; see text for link to source.)

Map 2. BLM map of environmentally critical areas around the Dry Lake SEZ. (“Regional Mitigation Strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone”; see text for link to source.)

But the now-defunct Chinese-funded project had nothing to do with the mitigation effort in Gold Butte.  The Gold Butte mitigation push is connected to the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone (SEZ).  Readers who have already waded through the BLM document “Regional Mitigation Strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone” recognize where I’m going here.  The BLM mitigation strategy, intended to mitigate the damage to the regional ecosystem expected from developing the Dry Lake SEZ, is to beef up environmental “protections” for Gold Butte.  As desert tortoises, and other fauna and flora, decline in the SEZ, they are to be encouraged and protected in the Gold Butte ACEC.  This may include measures like relocating desert tortoises to Gold Butte.

The BLM document is vague and cagey about “trespass cattle” as a threat to the Gold Butte ecosystem.  It names no names, and makes only a glancing reference to the issue.  (There’s one reference to “trespass livestock grazing” on p. 30.)

But, as documented by Free Republic and others, a separate BLM document naming Cliven Bundy, last updated in March 2014, had this to say about his cattle:

Non-Governmental Organizations have expressed concern that the regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone utilizes Gold Butte as the location for offsite mitigation for impacts from solar development, and that those restoration activities are not durable with the presence of trespass cattle.

(As of this writing, a cached version of the BLM document in question was available here.)

“Non-governmental organizations” means, in this case, environmental activists.  Not all of them favor development of the Dry Lake SEZ.  But some who are neutral about that, or even opposed to it, have nevertheless taken the opportunity posed by the mitigation plan to press for more exclusionary federal policies in Gold Butte.*  There has long been a push to declare Gold Butte a national conservation area (NCA), something on which locals in Clark County are deeply divided (with the environmental activists on one side, and most other long-time residents on the other).

The crony-corruption link

Now, here’s where it gets fun.  If the Dry Lake SEZ is the impetus behind tightening exclusionary policies on Gold Butte, but that’s not where the Chinese-backed solar farm was going to be, who is proposing to invest in Dry Lake?

What do you know.  It turns out to be our old pal, crony-corruption firm extraordinaire First Solar.  A BLM document from July 2012 reflects First Solar as the only company with an active application for a solar-energy project in the Dry Lake SEZ, and in a notice in the Federal Register on 17 March 2014 (see p. 14734; p. 133 of the PDF document), BLM confirms that the First Solar application is the only one on record, “serialized as NVN-084232.”  First Solar proposes to build a 400 megawatt solar-energy plant in the Dry Lake SEZ.

First Solar, you’ll remember, is the crony firm whose chairman of the board, Michael Ahearn, bundled hundreds of thousands in political donations for Obama and other Democrats, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Harry Reid.  First Solar was rewarded for this special excellence with over $3 billion in taxpayer “green energy” subsidies – whereupon it laid off most of its American workers and consolidated most of its activities overseas.  The company’s stock has performed very poorly in the years since First Solar began hanging on Uncle Sam’s bootstrap, in part because of product defects that have cost hundreds of millions in customer compensation.

But a firm whose vice president has an open door to Valerie Jarrett can’t be held down for long.  First Solar unloaded its underperforming CEO in 2012, brought in James Hughes – former Enron official named as an unindicted co-conspirator in 2006 – and shifted its emphasis from manufacturing to commercial-scale energy production.  The company now has active solar energy projects in California and Nevada, including the one launched in March 2014 on the Moapa Reservation north of the Dry Lake SEZ and west of Bunkerville.

Oh, and First Solar got a nice infusion of capital in 2013, when an equity stake was taken in the company by none other than General Electric, perhaps the most equal of all the Obama cronies.

Lower than a desert tortoise on the totem pole

The desert tortoise has to take what comes, when it gets in the way of the cash-funneling solar industry.  On 1 April, First Solar began digging up desert tortoises which are to be moved out of the way for the company’s Silver State and South Line solar array projects (the “Stateline” project), on either side of the California-Nevada border.  (Solar arrays are also hard on unfortunate birds, which might prefer a noble puree-ing in the blades of a wind turbine to the gruesome frying they get from solar arrays.)

But in his standoff with the federal government, Cliven Bundy, his heritage, and his livelihood are considered to be of even less importance.

* UPDATE:  Renee Nal posted an excellent piece at Tavernkeepers after I put this one up.  She focuses on the attacks of environmental activists against Bundy’s land use and property rights.  I encourage everyone to check her post out for a flavor of the long-running problem this has posed for ranchers all across the Western states.

Obama’s cronies have regularly leveraged environmentalist efforts to carve out special deals for alternative energy companies.  And vice versa:  the environmentalists have leveraged cronyism in the “green” energy industry to get what they want, even if sometimes the activists end up losing out (as when First Solar starts digging tortoises out of their burrows so it can expand a solar-energy farm).

If you want to read in-depth about the history of environmentalist inroads against property rights in the Western states, I can recommend three very useful books:  William Perry Pendley’s Sagebrush Rebel:  Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today; Pendley’s Warriors for the West; and Elizabeth Nickson’s Eco-Fascists: How Radical Conservationists are Destroying Our Natural Heritage (which is especially readable, reflective, and full of interesting anecdote).

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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