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21st Century Power Transmission Grid Policy Stated

Salazar Details Administration’s Policy Push to Build 21st Century Power Transmission Grid

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept 30, 2009) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told energy industry officials today that the federal government’s past electric transmission policy has been as fragmented and disjointed as the nation’s outdated power grid and that one of President Obama’s top energy priorities is to speed the development of a 21st Century network to move American energy more cleanly, efficiently and safely around the nation.

“The President’s economic recovery plan makes an unprecedented $11 billion federal investment in building a better and smarter electric grid,” Salazar said in keynote remarks for a Transmission Policy Summit at the National Press Club. “The Administration is using a Cabinet-level working group to develop a unified, forward-looking strategy for siting, cost allocation, and coordinating the permitting for proposed transmission projects.  And Interior is fast-tracking a number of projects that are environmentally sound.”

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Desert Solar Energy Project To Be Reviewed

BLM and Energy Commission Initiate Environmental Review of Solar Project in California Desert

(June 8, 2009) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today published a Notice of Intent to conduct a joint environmental review with the California Energy Commission on the impacts of a proposed solar energy project, Stirling Energy System's (SES) Solar One, in San Bernardino County.

SES Solar One, LLC has applied to BLM for a right-of-way (ROW) on public lands to construct a concentrated solar thermal power plant facility.  The proposed Solar One project would be constructed on an estimated 8,230-acre site, approximately 37 miles east of Barstow and 115 miles northeast of Los Angeles, near the community of Newberry Springs. 

BLM, as the lead agency under the National Environmental Policy Act, will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to analyze the site-specific impacts of the proposed grant of the ROW and a proposed amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area Plan.  The Energy Commission is the lead California agency for the licensing of thermal power plants over 50 megawatts and for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, including preparation of preliminary and final staff assessments (SA).

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Giant Sequoia Inventory Scheduled

Volunteers needed to help with inventory

The Sequoia National Forest is beginning the inventory of the giant sequoia groves located on the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  This inventory will complete an existing inventory that began in 1998 but was never finalized.  The information from this inventory will update the information we have collected over the years regarding overall the number and type of trees in giant sequoia groves, the size of these trees, the fuel-buildup of small and dead trees in giant sequoia groves, and the makeup of vegetation for wildlife habitat in these groves.

It has taken many years for the forest to be able to obtain funding to complete this inventory, originally identified as a desired goal in the 1990 Mediated Settlement Agreement that provided interim direction for the Sequoia National Forest under the 1988 Sequoia National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan.  The Forest inventoried approximately half (50%) of the giant sequoia groves from 1998 to 2004 before stopping the inventory project.  Funding to complete the inventory was not obtained until this year.  Completing the giant sequoia inventory will provide information that will be utilized as we develop the Giant Sequoia Environmental Impact Statement and subsequent management plan.  It is important the Forest accomplish the giant sequoia grove inventory for the Giant Sequoia National Monument Plan this year.

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Audit Critical of USFWS Monitoring

In a May 2009 audit report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a critical assessment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracking of required monitoring reports noting the Service has incomplete information about effects on listed species from Section 7 Consultations.

The western United States, including vast stretches of federal land, is home to more than a third of the 1,317 species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Under Section 7 of the Act, federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out, whether on federal or private lands, do not jeopardize listed species.

The GAO audit found the Service lacks a means of tracking the monitoring reports it requires in biological opinions and does not know the extent of compliance with these requirements. To track monitoring reports, the Service relies on its biologists to keep abreast of biological opinions and follow up on required monitoring reports. At the field offices GAO visited, Service biologists could not account for all required monitoring reports in 40 of 64 consultation files (63 percent) requiring such reports. Service staff said they face a demanding workload, and responding to new consultation requests often takes higher priority than following up on monitoring reports.

Monitoring reports can play a critical role in the consultation process because they provide an evaluation of and a feedback loop on the effects actions have on listed species and the effectiveness of protective measures taken to minimize the impact of take. The lack of monitoring reports increases the risk of litigation to protect species.

Click here to download a copy of the GAO Audit Report:

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Polar Bear 4(d) rule – Q’s and A’s

Q: What is a special 4(d) rule?

A:  In some circumstances, the standard regulatory provisions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for a threatened species may not be the necessary and appropriate provisions for the conservation of that species. In those situations, the Secretary has the discretion under section 4(d) of the ESA to determine in a special rule those measures and prohibitions that are necessary and advisable for the conservation of that particular species. When the polar bear was determined to be a threatened species under the ESA on May 15, 2008, then  Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne exercised his discretion under section 4(d) of the ESA to determine in a special rule those measures and prohibitions necessary and advisable for the conservation the polar bear.

Q: What is the polar bear 4 (d) rule and what does this allow people to do?
A:  For the polar bear, the special rule: (a) in most instances, adopts the conservation regulatory requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for the polar bear as the appropriate regulatory provisions for the polar bear; (b) provides that incidental take of polar bears resulting from activities outside the bear’s current range is not prohibited under the ESA; (c) clarifies that the Special Rule does not alter the Section 7 consultation requirements of the ESA; and (d) maintains the standard ESA protections for threatened species when and activity is not covered by an MMPA or CITES authorization or exemption.

Q: Why didn’t the Secretary rescind the polar bear 4(d) rule?
A: The Administration is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear.  Secretary Salazar reviewed the current rule, received the recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and concluded that the best course of action for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act is to wisely implement the current rule, monitor its effectiveness, and evaluate our options for improving the recovery of the species.

Using the best science available, Interior will closely monitor the success of the polar bear rule in helping the species recover, to determine if it needs to be adjusted or if there ways we can improve management practices to better protect the polar bear’s habitat.

In addition, the Secretary made this determination because even if the rule were withdrawn, by law a nearly identical interim special rule that was put in place when the polar bear was first listed as threatened would take effect. The final special rule is essentially identical to the interim special rule, except the incidental take exemption for activities within the United States was expanded from activities outside of Alaska to activities outside the range of the polar bear.

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Conservation Rule for Polar Bears Retained

Underlines Need for Comprehensive Energy and Climate Change Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May, 9, 2009) – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he will retain a special rule issued in December for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, but will closely monitor the implementation of the rule to determine if additional measures are necessary to conserve and recover the polar bear and its habitat.

“To see the polar bear’s habitat melting and an iconic species threatened is an environmental tragedy of the modern age,” Salazar said.  “This administration is fully committed to the protection and recovery of the polar bear.  I have reviewed the current rule, received the recommendations of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and concluded that the best course of action for protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act is to wisely implement the current rule, monitor its effectiveness, and evaluate our options for improving the recovery of the species.” 

The polar bear is listed as a threatened species under the Act, meaning it is at risk of becoming an endangered species throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The law provides civil and criminal penalties for actions that kill or injure bears and bars federal agencies from taking actions that are likely to jeopardize the species or adversely modify its critical habitat.

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