By Marc Campopiano, Josh Bledsoe, Jennifer Roy, and James Erselius

Phase I of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) has now been approved, paving the way for streamlined permitting and environmental review of qualified renewable energy projects on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered lands in the Mojave and Colorado/Sonoran desert regions of Southern California.

As discussed in a previous post, the four lead agencies responsible for preparing the DRECP introduced a phased approach to implementing the DRECP in March 2015. After receiving public comments, BLM released a Proposed Land Use Plan Amendment (LUPA) and Final Environmental Impact Statement for Phase I—the DRECP’s federal land component—in November 2015. On September 14, 2016, BLM signed the Record of Decision (ROD) approving the LUPA.

The Approved LUPA affects land use planning decisions for 10.8 million acres of the 22 million total acres covered under the DRECP, setting aside these BLM-managed lands for conservation and recreation and identifying priority areas for renewable energy development. Specifically, the Approved LUPA designates 388,000 acres of “Development Focus Areas,” which are lands identified as having high-quality solar, wind, and geothermal energy potential and access to transmission. Projects sited in Development Focus Areas are intended to benefit from streamlined permitting and mitigation process, as discussed in our previous post.

In addition to Development Focus Areas, the Approved LUPA designates:

  • 40,000 acres of Variance Process Lands for renewable energy development
  • Approximately 6.5 million acres for conservation
  • Approximately 3.6 million acres for recreation
  • 419,000 acres of General Public Lands, which lack a specific designation

In its press release announcing approval of Phase I, BLM noted that “[t]he lands specifically identified for renewable energy development by the plan have the potential to generate up to 27,000 megawatts of renewable energy—enough to power over eight million homes—that will help meet federal and state renewable energy and climate change goals.” BLM also acknowledged that the approval of Phase I will held the Department of the Interior meet President Obama’s Climate Action Plan goals, which call for the approval of at least 20,000 megawatts of renewal energy capacity on public lands by 2020.

As a next step, the BLM Desert District will lead the implementation of Phase I and apply the land use allocations to future actions. Phase II of the DRECP—focusing on non-federal lands—follows the ROD and will focus on aligning local, state, and federal renewable energy development and conservation plans. The lead agencies have not yet set a timeline for Phase II.

Latham & Watkins Environment, Land and Resources attorneys will be tracking the DRECP’s progress and updates will be announced at the DRECP website.