Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 10, 2017

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

U.S. House Considers Public Lands Giveaway for 'Solar Chimney' Boondoggle  

Legislation Would Gift 8,000 Acres in Arizona to Special Interests

WASHINGTON— The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would give away 8,000 acres of federal land to Arizona’s La Paz County for an experimental “solar chimney.”

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), H.R. 2630 would exempt the land from laws requiring taxpayers to be compensated when federal lands are sold or disposed of. According to Gosar’s website and other reports, the land will be used for a 2,600-foot-tall experimental solar chimney intended to provide electricity to western Arizona communities.

“This shady land giveaway looks a lot like a gift to special interests,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Giving away public lands so a private company can build the tallest structure in North America, with no public input or environmental review, is irresponsible and reckless.”

A Senate companion bill, S. 1222, was introduced in May by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 grants the Bureau of Land Management the authority to exchange, sell or dispose of federal land if it serves an important public objective that private land fails to offer. Congressional approval is required for land deals of more than 2,500 acres. The BLM can then use proceeds from the sale to buy other conservation land.

Gosar’s bill includes a provision that skirts the requirement for the land to serve an important public purpose and would allow La Paz County to sell the 8,000 acres to private developers.

“This bill would fleece Arizona taxpayers and set a terrible precedent,” said Hartl. “If La Paz County or the special-interest developer pulling the strings wants these lands for their experiment, they should pay market value as the law requires.”

In theory, a solar chimney — or solar updraft tower — would create a greenhouse under a canopy that covers thousands of acres around the tower. As the hot air rises, it turns the propellers in the turbines located at the base of the tower, and the heated air exits through the top of the chimney.

In western Arizona summer temperatures can exceed 110 degrees, and the air under the canopy would approach 195 degrees. The environmental impacts of deploying this technology in the Arizona desert are completely unknown.

“The solar chimney could easily turn into a wildlife killer,” said Hartl. “Even if it worked and didn’t hurt wildlife, you could produce just as much or more renewable energy by leasing this land for conventional solar panels. And there’d be a return for taxpayers.”

In the first nine months of the 115th Congress, Republicans have introduced more than 75 bills that attack public lands, weaken environmental safeguards on those lands or turn over control to states and local governments. These attacks come despite the fact that the vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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