So what happens if the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decides to allow LS Power to move forward with the Lava Ridge project?
Once the BLM approves and submits its Record of Decision (ROD), there may or may not be legal challenges submitted to a Federal Court, where a Judge will decide if the BLM followed its mandated process. However, that is all the judge will decide. At that time, the affected people will likely proceed to exercise their 1st Amendment rights. The right to freedom of assembly or to petition the government for redress of grievances. Depending on the circumstances, this could lead to protests.
Flag-waving opposition rallies in front of a courthouse or BLM building are one thing, but what happens if LS Power moves forward with construction and protests start on public land?
Perhaps we should start to examine that possibility given its likelihood, and fortunately, we can look to the historical record for insight. Let’s take a trip back in time to 2014, when LS Power, through its subsidiary Great Basin Transmission, was working with former Senator Harry Reid and a few multinational corporations to develop a solar farm on public lands. The project partners could not move forward with the presence of what they called “trespass cattle” that the BLM was instructed to round up. Now let’s pause there. The media gave the impression that the protests that ensued were due to angry cowboys, but it’s important to understand that there were already upset locals that didn’t want a huge solar farm.
An escalation occurred in the time frame of a few weeks. Multiple protests led up to the big one. Each protest was met by escalating force from the BLM. This started with the closure of all public lands in the area and the erecting of what they called a 1st Amendment space near the interstate a few miles away. Multiple arrests were made for either just being out there or protesting outside the 1st Amendment space.
One man on a paved road was attempting to film the destruction of water infrastructure and the dead cows when he was surrounded by two agents, both of whom had attack dogs. The agents placed sharpshooters with rifles on the hill above him and then moved in. The man insisted he had the right to be on the side of the road recording. This is when BLM agents tackled him, set the dogs on him, and smashed his face into the gravel. They took his property and arrested him. After taking him to jail overnight, they released him with no charges.
A few days later, there was another demonstration where the people were trying to see what was in the back of some dump trucks coming out of the desert. They believed it was dead cows because they had heard rifle shots from the BLM helicopter flying over the desert earlier that day. This again was met with attack dogs, but this time a BLM agent body slammed an elderly woman, and it was captured on video.
The video went viral, and many people decided to travel there for a whole new reason. The Governor of Nevada put out a statement denouncing the tactics being used by the BLM, saying that “nothing justifies the atmosphere of intimidation taking place”.
A few days later, there were hundreds of people there, each one with their own reason for being there. On the morning of April 12, 2014, the sheriff came and told everyone that the BLM was ceasing its operation, opening up the land, and leaving the area. An hour or so later, the people went to see for themselves. The BLM had not started leaving. The protest started again, but this time the agents all took up firing positions behind vehicles and on hilltops with rifles trained on the protesters in a dry wash underneath an I-15 overpass. Over a loudspeaker, the BLM agents threatened to use force if the protesters did not leave what they called “closed public land”. The armed standoff that ensued is alluded to by experts as having just taken place seemingly out of nowhere or chalked up to “anti-government extremists” goals.
In reality, it was a series of escalations initiated by the melding of multinational corporate financial interests and the arrogant violent tendencies of bureaucratic government agencies. Maybe these escalations won’t happen this time. Maybe the political opposition to the project is strong enough to keep those tendencies in check. Maybe the counties will use their authority over public land within the county to say no to the project. Maybe the governor will use his authority as the chief executive of the state and tell LS Power and the BLM to take the project somewhere else. Maybe the BLM will ignore their financial interests do the right thing, and protect the land.
Maybe, but either way, just to be clear, it was the Sheriff’s Department that came into the wash and made the federal agents stop pointing guns at the people protesting. It was the Sheriff’s Department that deescalated the situation and made the BLM leave.