Mojave Desert Utility-Scale Solar Project HIA
- The National Indian Justice Center
The National Indian Justice Center conducted an HIA of a proposed utility-scale solar project that focused on potential health risks and benefits for neighboring Native American communities in the Mojave Desert. Key decision-makers included the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); the California Energy Commission; the Department of Defense (DOD); and private developers. The renewable energy project has the potential to alter land and resources used by native people. Cultural and natural resources and sacred sites play a major role in the health of native people because their cultural identities, a primary health factor, are inextricably tied to the land, its features, and its resources. The HIA analyzed potential health impacts associated with cultural identity through changes in access to traditional foods, substance abuse, and mental health. It also considered benefits tied to the renewable energy project. They include improved air quality from reduced emissions and revitalization of the local economy, which could provide jobs and boost revenue that could support health and social services in addition to water and sanitation infrastructure.
The HIA urged DOD’s Fort Irwin team to consult with the Mojave Desert Tribes to evaluate the proposed sites’ native plants, animals, and cultural landscapes before permitting the project. The HIA also suggested that the team evaluate these landscapes in multiple seasons to ensure reliable and accurate observations of plant and animal life year-round. In June 2016, Fort Irwin released an environment assessment on the implementation of the integrated cultural resources management plan, which will provide meaningful opportunities for tribal participation.
The center conducted the HIA in parallel with California and National Environmental Review, and it used the assessment’s findings and recommendations to improve both the consideration of health and the implementation of mitigation measures to protect health in the final agency decision. This project was conducted in collaboration with the BLM, the state energy commission, affected tribes, tribal leaders, and tribal health advocates.
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