* Western Watersheds sued three federal agencies, directors
* Seeks to withdraw approval of Ivanpah plant
* Suit alleges environmental reviews were inadequate
By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A U.S. conversation group has sued the federal government over its approval of a major solar power plant in the California desert, the latest in a string of challenges to the nation’s renewable energy goals from the environmental community.
According to court papers, the non-profit Western Watersheds Project alleged U.S. regulators approved Brightsource Energy’s 370-megawatt Ivanpah solar energy plant without conducting adequate environmental reviews, and asked the court to order the defendants to withdraw their approvals.
The complaint names the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the agencies’ heads and other staffers, as defendants. None was immediately available for comment.
“In an ill-conceived rush to accommodate massive renewable energy projects ... the federal defendants precipitously approved unnecessarily destructive energy development of the California Desert Conservation Area without first conducting adequate environmental reviews.”
The complaint said the project’s approval process failed to analyze and mitigate the Ivanpah plant’s impact on migratory birds, the desert tortoise, which is a threatened species under federal law, desert bighorn sheep, groundwater resources and rare plants.
Oakland, California-based Brightsource has taken measures to assuage environmentalists’ concerns about the project. In October, the privately held company reached a deal with litigious environmental group The Center for Biological Diversity to acquire thousands of acres of habitat for the desert tortoise and other rare species.
Conflicts between solar proponents and foes are taking on growing importance as the renewable energy industry experiences a boom, particularly in California.
The conflicts have the potential to set back the development of solar energy and derail state and federal commitments to lessening dependence on fossil fuels.
Last month, a group called La Cuna de Aztlan, which represents Native American groups such as the Chemehuevi and the Apache, filed a challenge in federal court to the federal government’s approval of six big solar plants — including Ivanpah.
Western Watersheds filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Jan. 14, the group said.
Brightsource Energy could not immediately be reached for comment. (Editing by Robert Birsel)