Benefiting Southern Utah or side-stepping the law? Comment sought on proposed geothermal lease sales

Steam field, part of geothermal power generation, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of gprentice via iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Bureau of Land Management is requesting public comment on 67,586.69 acres of land in southwestern Utah, with 28 parcels proposed for lease sale to be used for geothermal energy.

Map shows locations of the geothermal parcels (pictured in gray), location and date unspecified | Image courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

The parcels are located in Iron, Millard and Beaver counties on public lands managed by the BLM’s Cedar City and Fillmore Field Offices. The BLM initiated a 15-day public comment period on the Determination of National Environmental Policy Act Adequacy. According to information reported in the project description, all 28 parcels were nominated by the public.

Kari Boyd-Peak, a spokesperson for the BLM, told St. George News they don’t have the GPS coordinates for the parcels included in the December geothermal lease sale. However, those interested can access the relevant shapefiles on the BLM’s ePlanning website. Anyone can use the BLM National Data View. The BLM uses the Public Land Survey System to describe the locations in detail.

Boyd-Peak said the sale of these parcels would be a benefit to Southern Utah residents, as they would allow new exploration, and the development activities may result in increased economic activities with renewable energy development in the area.

“It is a renewable and diverse energy solution for the United States – providing reliable and flexible electricity generation and delivering unique technology solutions for America’s heating and cooling demands,” she said. “Southern Utah residents would benefit from this local and sustainable source of energy.”

A detailed map shows locations of the areas nominated for geothermal lease sales, location and date unspecified | Image courtesy of Oliver Wood, St. George News

However, Oliver Wood, wildlands attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told St. George News this project is being rushed through without proper analysis of its potential impact.

“Relying primarily on environmental analysis from nearly 40 years ago, the BLM has once again decided to side-step federal law to rush through approval of this 67,000-acre geothermal leasing project,” Wood said. “The BLM’s process for authorizing these leases disregards changing conditions on the ground and the public’s right to be informed of the consequences from the BLM’s leasing actions.”

Utah currently has two geothermal electrical generation plants in the central and southwestern parts of the state: one located in Cove Fort and the other located at Roosevelt Hot Springs. Both sites are proposing redevelopment and expansion.

Geothermal energy is considered a renewable resource that generates electricity with minimal carbon emissions.

Background 

According to a press release issued by the BLM, geothermal leases are for a 10-year period. For each parcel, the bid, rental receipts and subsequent royalties are disbursed such that 50% of the funds are disbursed to the respective state, an additional 25% is disbursed to the respective county and 25% remains in the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The BLM manages public lands for many uses, including sustainable energy development. In addition, each lease, if issued, contains standard stipulations to protect endangered species and cultural resources and ensures that development is safe and environmentally responsible. After parcels are leased, lessees must submit site-specific proposals for additional in-depth analysis before energy development can begin.

Public comments procedure

To ensure that comments apply to the parcels actually proposed for a lease sale, the BLM encourages the public to submit comments during the official public comment period. The BLM does not analyze comments that are not specific to parcels identified in the determination of NEPA adequacy, because they are outside the scope of the proposed action.

View the environmental documents, lists and maps of the parcels, and attached stipulations on the BLM Land Use Planning and NEPA Register site. Public comments on the environmental documents must be submitted electronically via the ePlanning webpage and must be received by Oct 1.

Kent Hoffman, deputy state director for lands and minerals, encouraged early public involvement for this review process.

“It is an integral part of our evaluation of the proposed lease parcels,” Hoffman said in the press release. “Comments should identify issues and concerns specific to the parcels being considered.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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