April 2009 BLM Steering Committee Meeting

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Elder Statesman
Supporting Vendor
Apr 14, 2004
April 2009 BLM Steering Committee Meeting

Hector Villalobos was not in attendance; the meeting was conducted by Lynn Gumm. The majority of the meeting consisted of an overview of all the alternative energy projects currently in the planning stage with the Ridgecrest office. As previously reported, the office is now entertaining approximately one new solicitation PER WEEK from some kind of alternative energy outfit looking to locate a facility on Federal land.

This has created an extreme burden on an agency that already has many tasks to perform with a limited budget and even more limited manpower. They currently have 25 alternative energy proposals on the table. Their TOTAL staff in the office is 45. There are several things the BLM is implementing to deal with this situation.

First, they have instituted a cost-recovery fund which must be paid for by the potential developer. Their current mode of operation consists of offering the applicant ONE free pre-application meeting to discuss issues and strategies, letting the applicant know the processess and reviews their project will be subject to, along with the limitations of the agency to process the application. ALL future meetings, and ALL future reviews conducted by the BLM WILL BE PAID FOR by the applicant. They are expected to pay $50,000.00 up front into a cost-recovery account. Those who are not willing to pay will not have their paperwork reviewed until after the paying customers! I think this is what they call pay-to-play government.

Second, Hector has put together a small task force in the office of approximately 6 senior staff to focus one day a week on moving project paperwork forward. IMO, this was a very good move on Hector’s part. Focusing senior staff, with the experience and position to make decisions, for a fixed period of time, on these projects, will undoubtedly yield progress. And no doubt, the higher-ups back east are looking to BLM Ridgecrest to show signs of progress in the face of the administration’s new energy goals.

Third, Lynn indicated that as part of Obama’s stimulus package directed towards alternative energy, that all the BLM district offices would receive funding for FIVE additional staff to work on alternative energy proposals. BLM will release a notice of intent to hire shortly. Lynn made it clear that in order for the new staff to be ‘useful’ they would need to have a ranking of GS-11.

On the mining front, Charlie Hattendorf and others pressed Lynn for some bright-line rules on the difference between casual mining and active mining and the appropriate ability to stay on the site of the claim for more than the 14 day casual visitor limit. Apparantly, the current rules are that you can do casual prospecting [without the use of ANY MECHANIZED EQUIPMENT] on public land without filing a mining plan. ANY use of mechanized equipment requires filing of a plan. Further, to be entitled to stay on the claim for more than 14 days, the activity must be a FULL-TIME [8+ hours a day} activity, not recreational. When pressed by a member of the public, Lynn said that the Bureau would prepare a flyer explaining these differences, to be available by the next meeting. IMO, having a bright-line standard for mining on public lands will be good for the public and the agency.
Well its sounding like its inevitable that some land will be given up for any number of energy companies. Will the public be allowed to voice their opinion on what land gets used or is that strictly a BLM function?
Well its sounding like its inevitable that some land will be given up for any number of energy companies. Will the public be allowed to voice their opinion on what land gets used or is that strictly a BLM function?

1. I don't know. It has been customary for there to be public MEETINGS on the subject, like the one Solar Millenium had at the BLM office last month. But I don't know if there is additional opportunity for imput beyond the BLM public meetings, say as in written comments.

2. What I did observe at the last meeting, was some very sharp and pointed questioning from Hector [bureau chief] on the acreage request vs the actual footprint of the operation. The requested acreage was over 2.5 times the size of the proposed facility. IT was NOT asked for as a buffer zone, just for the duration of construction. Hector said the BLM would be looking VERY HARD at the acreage request.

3. I can see where the BLM has it's own incentive to push this line of inquiry, because they realize that whatever they agree to for Solar Millenium may serve as precedent for the other companies lining up on the horizon. So it serves them well to push for the most minimally invasive programs up front, to ensure that the power companies don't look at public lands as an easy target.

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