Apparently there really is a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that applies to all major federal decisions with the potential to “significantly affect the quality of the human environment”. In accordance with that law, the Bureau of Land Management has placed a freeze on approving applications for large scale installations of solar energy plants on public land, pending the completion of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). You can find out more about the project and the opportunity for public comment at http://solareis.anl.gov/. If you are really a policy wonk and love legal documents, you will get a thrill from reading the final Solar Energy Development Notice of Intent (NOI).
The PEIS process is expected to take approximately 22 months, but that may change after the public scoping process is completed.
There is an article on the topic in the June 27, 2008 New York Times titled Citing Need for Assessments, U.S. Freezes Solar Energy Projects. The headline is a bit misleading; the BLM will not do anything to slow solar power development on private property. When deciding whether or not to lease large tracts of publicly owned land for commercial development, however, the NEPA is quite clear on the need for the EIS.
It amuses me to read about the consternation of the “budding” industry of developing solar arrays; the leaders seem pretty upset that they might have to purchase or lease more expensive private land when there is all that pristine taxpayer owned land just aching to be covered with many square miles of solar panels, access roads, and transmission lines.