Opinions / Op-eds

Don’t Let Lava Ridge Become Another Bunkerville

Idahoans probably remember the 2014 standoff that occurred between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at Bunkerville, Nevada, and also involved Americans from across the U.S. coming to support Bundy.  The press described the scene as a law-breaking rancher and inappropriately labeled supporters “domestic terrorists” and other derogatory names.  These “terrorists” were blamed for causing problems with horrifically distorted news on the matter that really didn’t expose what it was about. 

In spite of what BLM spokesman Craig Leff claimed, that there is “no connection” between the impoundment of Bundy’s cattle and solar energy development in Nevada”, evidence points to a different conclusion.

Former Senator Harry Reid, and his son Rory, had been working with the Chinese ENN Energy Group for solar projects on federal land, spurred on by the Reids as early as 2011, and LS Power since 2010.  Over 50 million acres of public land, or 70% of Nevada, had already been designated for solar development in 2010, 5,717 acres in Clark County alone.  In 2010, Reid was even able to get a pre-approved LS Power line stretched into Idaho.

As part of the Dry Lake Solar mitigation plan, the Bundy grazing range was identified as an area that could be used for protection of the desert tortoise, but the cattle were in the way, in spite of the fact that cattle and tortoises benefit from existing together.  The BLM called it “Cattle Trespass Impacts” that interfered with the project.  Non-governmental organizations (NGO) also supported the notion that these trespass cattle were in the way for the tortoise.  So began the BLM round up of the cattle, and the beginning of the standoff

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However, eventually the cattle had to be moved anyway.  “The BLM wanted Cliven Bundy out of the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area so the agency could use the land for future solar projects”.

Over the course of several weeks, the BLM, through its law enforcement program, implemented a series of steps that only encouraged an escalation of the situation.  As supporters gathered, the BLM closed access to the public land and cordoned them off into a 1st Amendment area, which only inflamed the situation, and the BLM surely knew it would.  Next, when citizens began to leave that designated area, the BLM chose to bring in more back-up with weapons and dogs in a show of force, again adding to the escalation.  But that wasn’t enough for the BLM, the next step they took was destroying private property including cattle, assaulting citizens, and even slamming a woman to the ground.  This only caused both sides to become more agitated, inviting more citizens to lend support and bring weapons for their own protection.

The last insult was a false report that the land was being opened back up and the BLM was leaving, with the BLM refusing to acknowledge the local Sheriff’s authority in requesting them to leave.  When it was discovered that was not the case, protesters gathered in a dry wash underneath an I-15 overpass.  As a result, the BLM felt it was necessary to take up firing positions behind vehicles and on hilltops, with those rifles pointed at the protesters.  By this time, it was clear the BLM had no problem overstepping its authority and increase the threat to American lives.  But blame was placed on citizens for this escalation. 

It was finally the county Sheriff’s office that was able to use its role to negotiate an end to the standoff with the BLM director, even though the BLM claimed it was the primary arbitrator.

Now, ENN dropped its pursuit of this project in June, 2013, before the Bundy incident, claiming lack of buyers.  The standoff began in April, 2014 so it appears the two had nothing to do with each other.  However, “In May 2012, the United States filed a Complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for Cliven Bundy’s trespass grazing within the Gold Butte area outside the Bunkerville Allotment.”  The Center for Biological Diversity even put the heat on the BLM in 2012 with “a notice of intent to sue the bureau for canceling a planned roundup of Bundy’s cattle”.  The tortoise mitigation plan and removing cattle was being discussed during this time, before ENN dropped the project.

Then, “On July 9, 2013, U.S. District Court of Nevada Judge Lloyd George permanently enjoined Cliven Bundy’s trespass grazing and ordered Cliven Bundy to remove his trespass cattle from public land outside the former Bunkerville Allotment within 45 days, stating that the United States is authorized to seize and impound any cattle that remain in trespass after 45 days.”  Because of the tortoise mitigation measures within the Gold Butte area for renewable energy projects, that land was still needed, without cattle.  

Sen. Reid and the BLM recognized that advancing this solar power agenda would eventually return to the same issue because of the SWIP line.  So, it would make sense to move ahead with the removal of the cattle as “public land in Clark County’s Dry Lake Valley has been zoned for solar energy development. For any projects to proceed, developers would have to balance the damage by conserving tortoise habitat elsewhere.”  The 2012 Western Solar Plan, Approved Resource Management Plan Amendments/Record of Decision (ROD) for Solar Energy Development in Six Southwestern States, continued this problem for Nevada.

The BLM also determined that continued cattle grazing would interfere with the Bureau’s plans to use the land as an environmental mitigation area for desert tortoise disruption caused by the solar facility, again even though cattle and tortoises do well together.  Did “Environmental mitigation necessary for a planned solar power project” motivate, or serve as an excuse for the BLM to launch a “military style” enforcement action?

It is rumored that ENN didn’t want to pay for a tortoise reserve, and also saw the cattle as an issue.  But it didn’t matter, Sen. Reid had his hands in everything since 2010, using tax dollars to achieve his goals.  Eventually, Reid ensured that federal legislation moved other solar projects forward by bringing in NV Energy and LS Power.

The rehash of this standoff in 2014 serves as a reminder of the potential dangers with the Lava Ridge project.  With this project, there will be a major impact on cattle and other resources, and a repeat of what happened in Nevada should be at the back of everyone’s mind.  There is high opposition to this project, and the potential for protests.  LS Power and the BLM have literally zoned out the Magic Valley area for both solar and wind projects, just as in the Nevada case.

If this project does move forward, Nevada should serve as a reminder to the BLM that citizens have the right to protest and there should be no interference with a staged and confined area for them to go in order to protest.  Restricted areas are not within the First Amendment.

The BLM should also acknowledge, recognize, and not mock the authority of the local Sheriff’s office.  Should Lava Ridge become a protest issue, the BLM needs to be reminded that a local Sheriff is elected to protect citizen rights.  In Nevada, it was the county Sheriff’s office that brought the situation to a peaceful end.  Sheriff’s take an oath to uphold both the U.S. and state Constitutions, and is the first line of defense in preserving citizen rights.  According to the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), “law enforcement powers held by the sheriff supersede those of any agent, officer, elected official or employee from any level of government when in the jurisdiction of the county.” 

No less complicit is the media, framing the narrative as a cattle rancher conflict in order to disguise the involvement of corporate and federal deals.  Journalists should follow their own Code of Ethics by not assigning negative labels to citizens or categorizing them into groups, embellishing stories, or printing exaggerated narratives.  Journalists should be held responsible, and accountable, for reporting all facts.

Both Bunkerville and Lava Ridge have to do with corporate powers that are in bed with the federal government along with powerful environmental groups, the money that can be made on both sides, and who or what can be bought.  While there are some perspectives that the rancher won because he was released and continues to graze his cattle, in truth, nobody won because the same core problem exists.  A federal government that is corrupt and out of control, engaging in corporatism, far exceeding its enumerated powers, and continuing to threaten the lives of citizens.  It’s just part of the World Economic Forum agenda, in which the BLM participates via the Department of Interior (DOI).

In 2014, LS Power Chairman, Mike Segal, and former Senator Harry Reid, were working together to bring solar power to Nevada through the Great Basin Transmission South line, an LS Power “affiliate” and co-owner of One Nevada Transmission Line.  This is part of the Southwest Intertie Project (SWIP), which also ties into Lava Ridge. 

Through all of these deals with the BLM, LS Power laid plans to build wind turbines, transmission lines, and other projects for a profit that have now reached Idaho, all the while not appearing to care much about what is in its way or how it clutters Idaho land.  Because of these deals across “public land”, the BLM is more than complicit in this agenda, forgetting its role as stewards of land and as public servants.  Magic Valley now faces the dilemma of stopping a wind turbine project from interfering with the cattle industry, a historical site, recreation, and use of airspace.

The Lava Ridge project is a threat that needs to be solved through legal means, there are laws that protect both ranchers and citizens, they just need to be used.  Not that it’s recognized anyway, the BLM is not within the enumerated powers defined by the Constitution.

Elected officials at a state and national level should use their authority to legally intervene.  County officials have the authority through Coordination to force the federal government to the table and resolve inconsistencies in land use plans, and it should be used.

Final comments for the Lava Ridge Project will end April 20.  From there, the BLM will make a decision on whether this wind turbine project can move forward.  At this point it should be Alternative A, No Action (page 2-1).  We really just don’t want those turbines falling on cows.

What’s it going to be BLM?  Before one step further is taken, deny this project.  Go back to the laws that prohibit the degradation of the land and the violation of ranchers and their grazing rights and public use of the land.  As public servants that is your duty. 

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One reply on “Don’t Let Lava Ridge Become Another Bunkerville”

Great article Karen! BTW, the off-shore wind turbine project in New Jersey, where all of the dead whales are washing up on the beach-that’s an LS Power company as well.

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