CN&R blinded by solar view

Barbara Vlamis is Executive director for Butte Environmental Council for 13 years.
Energy conservation is a laudable activity promoted by environmental groups such as the Butte Environmental Council for decades. How one accomplishes this is equally important. The Butte-Glenn Community College District failed to act responsibly when analyzing possible sites for solar panels. It used the least rigorous standard of review and failed to notify interested parties and adjacent landowners.

Compounding those errors in judgment and possible illegality, the News & Review missed the opportunity to adequately inform the public in its Feb. 3 editorial regarding a restraining order decision on the case ["Butte College solar fiasco"].

Some background: Butte Valley Preservation Society is challenging the district’s solar project for failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. When projects will significantly impact the environment, CEQA requires environmental review that provides analysis of alternatives (like roof or parking lot placement), notifying the public and interested parties and presenting thorough analysis of the environment impacts. This project will directly impact 13.5 acres of oak woodland and wetland savanna on property that the district designated as a nature preserve.

In the CN&R editorial, a restraining order decision is misinterpreted as a profound statement on the merits of an environmental-law case, which has yet to be heard. To start, the acting judge has no knowledge of environmental law (he is a criminal judge) because the “environmental” judge had to disqualify himself due to conflicts.

Second, anyone who attempts a CEQA case in Butte County knows full well that you’d better count on an appeal, as Butte County has such limited expertise in this area of law. This CEQA case has merit, with the district not only avoiding the spirit of the law, but also undertaking the weakest form of environmental review on their sensitive preserve.

A critical review of the district’s historic practices also demonstrates a pattern by the district to act in this manner. For example, the district previously destroyed wetlands that are protected under the Clean Water Act without permits and even acknowledges this error in a 1991 memo: “Our record to present in terms of wetland preservation is not good, possibly illegal.”

All too often the C&NR and other media show their built-in bias toward mainstream “official” sources such as business and government (schools) while ignoring non-mainstream sources such as individuals and grassroots groups.

BEC encourages the C&NR to investigate many of the documented irregularities with this solar project, learn more about environmental laws and consider media’s inherent bias favoring "official" sources.