The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked to develop Solar Regional Mitigation Strategies (SRMSs) for solar energy zones between 2012 and 2018. However, Executive Order 13783 (Federal Register Vol. 82, No. 61, released in March 2017) rescinded previous compensatory mitigation (CM) policies for several federal agencies, including the BLM. In July 2018, the BLM issued Instruction Memorandum 2018-093, stating that CM requirements for the use of public lands are not permissible, and that the BLM must refrain from authorizing any activity that causes unnecessary or undue degradation pursuant to Section 302(b) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. However, the BLM may continue to require the implementation of other forms of onsite mitigation to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation and to protect resources. IM-2018-093 was superseded by IM-2019-018 in December 2018. The two IMs are very similar; IM-2019-018 states more explicitly that CM that is in compliance with State requirements or other Federal requirements is applicable for projects (solar or other) on BLM-administered lands.
Under IM 2019-018, the BLM may not require CM as a condition for project approvals, and under no circumstances may the BLM agree to accept a monetary contribution for the implementation of CM. However, the BLM may consider voluntary CM by project developers as a means to reach a Finding of No Significant Impact in project-specific environmental impact studies. Additionally, the IM does not affect CM required by Federal Laws (e.g., the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act), and does not affect CM required under state laws. Thus, CM for impacts to wetlands and ESA species and CM under state laws may still be required for solar energy projects on public lands. Additionally, voluntary CM for other impacts of solar energy projects on public lands has not been precluded by IM 2019-018.
BLM's IM 2019-018 superseded the policies related to CM fees as detailed in several solar regional mitigation strategy (SRMS) documents for solar energy zones (SEZ) that had previously been developed under BLM's Solar Energy Program. As of July 2018 the BLM had completed SRMS documents for eight solar energy zones (three in Arizona, two in Nevada, and 3 in Colorado — see below). Development of SRMSs had begun for four additional zones in New Mexico and Utah. The draft and final regional SRMS documents included recommended per-acre CM fees for solar energy zones based on unavoidable impacts to vegetation communities and associated ecosystem services. Under IM 2019-018 only CM fees required under federal law (for example, fees required for mitigation of impacts to desert tortoise in the Dry Lake SEZ in Nevada) remain applicable.
Although the BLM currently does not require CM fees as part of project approvals in solar energy zones, the SEZ characterization data and discussion of potential impacts of development in the SRMS documents may still prove useful for consideration during project permitting activities. Additionally, the BLM conducted outreach to support the SRMS projects with a broad representation of stakeholders, including industry, state and local governments, tribes, and local communities, and this stakeholder input to the SRMS documents also remains valuable. Links to the SRMS documents are provided below.
While developing the solar regional mitigation strategies, the BLM also released its draft Procedural Guidance for Developing Solar Regional Mitigation Strategies for public viewing. That guidance is available below.
The regional mitigation strategies were conducted in accordance with the BLM's mitigation policy, Manual Section-1794, and Mitigation Handbook (H-1794-1).
Note: BLM IM 2018-093 rescinded BLM's Mitigation Handbook H-1794-1.
As an incentive to develop projects in SEZs, the BLM has begun to establish regional mitigation strategies for all SEZs. Regional mitigation strategies are expected to simplify and improve the mitigation process for future projects in SEZs.
Regional mitigation strategies developed for SEZs will be used to inform leasing decisions and project authorizations within SEZs. They will be developed through a transparent stakeholder and public engagement process. As described in Appendix A, Section A.2.4 of the Final Solar PEIS (PDF, 3.0 MB), the BLM expects that regional mitigation strategies will consist of the following elements: