On June 29. the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it issued a Notice of Segregation of Public Lands designated as Solar Energy Zones to protect them from mining and other appropriations claims. The Solar Energy Zones encompass 677,000 acres throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The action is taken as the BLM continues its efforts to support development of solar and other renewables on public lands.
The segregation is an up to two-year continuation of a former segregation that protected the land from mining and other claims on the land, said BLM spokesperson Megan Crandall. The former continuation expired on June 29.
“The issue is the mining would take precedence over right-of-way applications,” Crandall said.
The right-of-way process is a lengthy process that includes an environmental assessment.
“It does not accord the developer any rights until that right of way is granted,” she said.
As such, miners could make claims on the lands that would invalidate solar developers’ applications.
“Once their right-of-way is granted, you can’t file a speculative mining claim. What’s at issue is the in-between time frame,” Crandall said.
Current mining claims and operations will continue as they had.
“The segregation in no way affects current valid claims,” Crandall said.
BLM, a Department of Interior office, also is seeking a five-year withdrawal of the Solar Energy Zones from mining claims. The withdrawal is different than a segregation claim and requires more in depth work to complete, Crandall said.
While the withdrawal is perfected, the segregation will protect the lands for solar developers in the interim. The BLM is accepting public comments on the proposed withdrawal until July 20, 2011.
If and when the five-year withdrawal is put in place, the temporary segregation will be removed, according to Crandall.
The National Mining Association isn’t thrilled by either action. It provided a written statement to BLM that the extension is unjustified and said it has the potential to significantly impact legitimate mining claims, according to Cronkite News.
“The take home message really is that the BLM is working really, really diligently to support renewables on public lands,” Crandall said.