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Congress inserts conditions for Idaho wind farm in federal spending bill

A hand-drawn banner says "Stop Lava Ridge" on the side of a road in Jerome County.
Rachel Cohen
/
Boise State Public Radio
Signs opposing the Lava Ridge Wind Farm scatter farm fields on the road from the highway to the Minidoka National Historic Site.

Congress passed a federal spending package late into the evening on Friday that funds several key agencies through September, avoiding a government shutdown. Tucked inside one of the bills is a measure that specifically addresses a proposed wind farm in Idaho.

The appropriations bill for the Interior Department includes a section about the Lava Ridge Wind Project, proposed on public lands in the Magic Valley.

It says no funds in the package can be used for "granting, issuing or renewing a right-of-way" for Lava Ridge, until the Bureau of Land Management, in consultation with local officials, has analyzed alternative turbine designs to reduce impacts on wildlife, cultural resources and more. Additionally, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland would need to report back to Congress on the progress of these consultations.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a press release that this measure in the federal budget blocks "the out-of-touch Lava Ridge Wind Project until the Secretary of Interior consults with local elected officials and stakeholders and reports back to Congress."

Analyzing alternative turbine designs and engaging with the community are key components of the review process for Lava Ridge that the Bureau of Land Management has been conducting for the past three years under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The agency formed a local subcommittee to discuss the project, which included county commissioners, hosted public forums and collected more than 11,000 public comments on the draft environmental impact statement report.

However, a spokesperson for Simpson said the appropriations bill introduces a "new, separate requirement" for the BLM in its analysis of Lava Ridge, on top of the NEPA process.

There has been widespread opposition to the wind project from various groups, including local residents, ranchers, members of the Japanese American community and Idaho politicians.

In an emailed statement, LS Power, the company proposing Lava Ridge, said public engagement has been integral to the BLM's evaluation of the project.

"This proposed legislation underscores the importance of local stakeholder perspectives in the BLM’s land use decisions," said Luke Papez, senior director of project development at LS Power, before Congress passed the bill.

The BLM's D.C. office declined to comment on this section of the appropriations bill and its implications for the agency's consideration of Lava Ridge.

A final environmental impact report on the wind project was expected last month but was postponed until spring.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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