In lawsuit filed in California state superior court on Monday, environmental groups say California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife violated state law when it approved the Panoche Valley Solar Project
LOS ANGELES – (RealEstateRama) — Defenders of Wildlife, The Sierra Club and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society brought a lawsuit in California state superior court yesterday to set aside the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)’s Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for the Panoche Valley Solar Project. The Panoche Valley Solar Project is owned by Renewable Energy Trust and ConEdison Development Company, an unregulated subsidiary of the New York utility, Consolidated Edison.
The case concerns a massive development project in an irreplaceable area of significant ecological importance critical to the survival and recovery of highly endangered species, including the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the giant kangaroo rat. The conservation partners are asking the court to set aside the permit, because CDFW violated both California’s Endangered Species Act and the state’s fully protected species laws when it issued a permit for a project that would harm blunt-nosed leopard lizards as well as harm almost 1,000 giant kangaroo rats, a species that has declined drastically over the last few years.
‘’Take from this project will jeopardize the existence of blunt-nosed leopard lizard in this region,” said Barry Sinervo PHD, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the leading expert on blunt-nosed leopard lizard. “This area has been identified as a key refuge for blunt-nosed leopard lizard as their habitat shrinks and shifts because of climate change. Eliminating this last refuge would put the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, as well as many other species, closer to extinction, and would result in irreversible negative consequences on the ecosystem.”
“The Panoche Valley is a place of unique ecological value, critical to protecting California’s natural legacy,” said Sarah Friedman, Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club. “If this land is developed, it will be a blow to the region’s ecology and several species already teetering on the edge of extinction. While we need more solar in California, we don’t need to choose between energy and wildlife.”
“With this lawsuit, Defenders is working to protect some of California’s most endangered wildlife and ensure that the Panoche Solar Project never drives a single solar panel into this unique valley floor,” said Kim Delfino, California Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Renewable energy projects should be built on degraded lands, like the former agricultural lands in the Westlands Water District, and not on the last remaining intact habitat of critically endangered species. We don’t have to sacrifice California’s natural heritage to meet our clean energy goals.”
“In addition to the endangered species, the valley provides a home for at least a dozen protected birds, causing the Audubon Society to designate it as an Important Bird Area of Global Priority,” said Shani Kleinhaus, Environmental Advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.
Local ranchers currently maintain the majority of the valley floor as grassland, with small pockets of vegetable, fruit and livestock farming in between. This sustainable approach protects space for wildlife, conserves water and protects the valley from desertification.
“The project would cover half of the valley floor, decimating an irreplaceable landscape of great value to our community, and the groundwater impacts will hurt our ranching and the delicate ecosystem of the Valley,” said Kim Williams, a Panoche Valley rancher. “That’s why our community is fighting back against the misguided and ecologically destructive Panoche Valley project.”
Ecologically Delicate Area is Site of Proposed Solar Project
· The Panoche Valley, located south of San Jose in San Benito County, is one of only three ‘core recovery areas’ designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service over twenty years ago as necessary for the survival and recovery of endangered species native to Central California’s dwindling grasslands, including the giant kangaroo rat, the San Joaquin kit fox and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The Panoche Valley is the last of these three areas to be undisturbed. Developing the precious habitat found on the valley floor will preclude recovery of the endangered species, throwing away more than twenty years of protection efforts by federal and state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations and scientists as well as millions of California’s taxpayers’ dollars spent on conservation efforts.
· The blunt-nosed leopard lizard is a fully protected species under California law and a federally-listed endangered species. Native to California, the blunt nosed leopard lizard has been in sharp decline, due to habitat fragmentation caused by conversion of native grasslands to other uses. Today, there are no more than a few scattered habitat patches remaining and likely less than 1,000 in total population. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are the biggest threats.
· Studies have found that the endangered giant kangaroo rat has declined by 95 percent since 2010. Specifically, data shows an incredibly steep decline in the Panoche Valley population of the giant kangaroo rat. Giant kangaroo rat is a keystone species which many animals, including the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox, depend, and further damage to the species could cause impacts throughout the ecosystem.
We Can Achieve Economic Development and Renewable Energy Goals without Jeopardizing Delicate Ecosystems
· The Panoche Valley Solar Project is not necessary to meet California’s climate or renewable energy goals. The Nature Conservancy identified hundreds of thousands of acres of land with low agricultural and biodiversity value in the Western San Joaquin Valley. For example, lands controlled by the Westlands Water District in nearby Kings and Fresno Counties has broad support from farming and environmentalists, who are working together with state and local governments and the solar industry to find a way to develop this amazing solar resource and provide a win for the environment.
· According to the California Energy Commission, there are 55 large-scale solar projects already under development in nearby Monterey, Fresno, Merced and Kings counties that are either approved or seeking permits. These projects, if completed, would produce a total of 1929 MW of clean energy and between 11,000 and 15,000 job-years according to estimates by California’s Clean Energy Future.
You can view the full text of the petition HERE.
Sarah Friedman, , 215-300-8572
Catalina Tresky, , (202) 772-0253