Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mojave Desert Future On the Table

Many of you have probably read that the Federal Government promised $1.4 billion in loan guarantees for BrightSource Energy's proposed solar site in the Mojave Desert's Ivanpah Valley.  Even though the California Energy Commission (CEC) has not yet made a final decision regarding whether or not to approve the solar site, the political pressure is clearly in favor of BrightSource despite the biological importance of the site (read more about the importance here).   The CEC's "Presiding Member" is due to make a final decision regarding the Ivanpah proposal soon, which will be one of many decisions made by our elected officials or policymaking bodies over the next year that could make this a critical year for the Mojave.  In addition to Ivanpah, you can expect the CEC to also make a decision regarding the future of several more large energy sites, to include Ridgecrest, Abengoa, and Calico in the Mojave, and Blythe, Palen, Rice and Solar Two sites in the Colorado Desert. In addition to CEC's efforts, the Federal Government is moving forward in its consideration of Solar Energy Development Zones which would further encourage industrialization in the Mojave.

Meanwhile, population centers all around the Mojave continue to erode the stability of this desert.  Las Vegas and Primm are still intent on a large airport in the Ivanpah Valley, and private developers received financial backing from a Chinese bank to develop a Maglev train linking Victorville and Las Vegas.  San Bernardino County has not abandoned plans to build the "inter-county connector," a multi-lane highway linking Victorville and Palmdale that would span the western Mojave and bring with it economic development incentives, turning quiet solitude into warehouses and business parks. Fort Irwin is looking to cement its southward expansion with a potentially disastrous desert tortoise relocation program--although leaving the tortoises in the path of tanks is not an option either.

The primary effort to provide balance to this chaotic rush to develop Mojave wilderness is Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010), which is already meeting opposition from those who believe it would lock up too much land and prevent its economic or military uses.  What looked to be a friendly legislative environment in Washington for conservation efforts in early 2009 has turned into an arena full of doubt and political priorities that eclipse CDPA 2010, let alone wise management of public lands.  If CDPA 2010 is to stand a chance, America's elected officials will have to be convinced that preserving Mojave wilderness stands for more than "locking up" sensitive habitat.  In these economic times people will choose jobs over tortoises.  In fact, preserving Mojave wilderness at this juncture, which CDPA aims to do, is just sensible land management.  Economic and military uses of the Mojave do not come to a halt if CDPA is passed.  They are in fact growing, which is why preserving our inspiring natural heritage is so important.

We have already learned that wilderness can be undone.  The animal that graces California's State flag is a haunting reminder of that fact.  But if our policymakers and elected officials choose to pave over Ivanpah Valley, mine in Old Woman Mountains, or put up a solar plant in a quiet wilderness that brought peace to generations of Americans, then they do so relegating the immeasurable and boundless value of many Mojave treasures to the confines of photographs and text that fall far short of capturing what is lost.

4 comments:

  1. Shaun,

    Your post is right on. My main objective,and I know it is a selfish one, has been preservation
    of the Mojave National Preserve at all costs. And
    I had a blind eye to other challenges to other parts of the Mojave desert.

    But looking at the BLM Geocommunicator site and creating a map centered on Kelso Depot, I discovered that they have gotten the whole preserve surrounded with potential renewable energy sites, and the construction of only a small percentage of those plants and associated
    infrastructure, would have such a major effect on the aquifers that supply the whole Mojave desert, that life there as we know it now, would be changed so badly and forget about recovery in our lifetimes, it would take many thousands of years to make up the lost water.
    Obviously the beautiful, plant filled, animal filled, joshua tree filled views would be gone, I'll just say it, maybe forever.

    I'll close by throwing out this scenario and it
    is in regard to the MNP. Let's say both Ivanpah solar projects and the airport get the go ahead and construction begins. And maybe the Pisgah plant as well, plus new construction on transmission corridors that traverse the MNP. How long would the park management be able to withstand calls to upgrade the roads and allow all the construction to go through the preserve day and night? What happens to the solitude and quiet? How about the flight paths over the preserve when the airports built?

    Of course this scenario applies to the whole Mojave desert, but maybe my love for the preserve is affecting my thoughts here.

    Thanks for such a thought provoking post, and pointing out that there is a whole forest in danger, not just a few trees.

    Morongobill

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  2. hey Bill, I appreciate your comments. And funny that you should mention the Geocommunicator site because I just stumbled upon that tool in my quest to research mining claims in the Mojave. A Victorville City Council member and Congressman Jerry Lewis mentioned "locked up" mining resources as a concern when they voiced initial opposition to CDPA 2010.

    There is certainly value to being focused on what's going on outside your back porch, since focused passion and effort may have a better pay-off and your arguments will be much more grounded in the reality of the area -- in your case, MNP. The greater chorus of concern that people can generate, the more likely it is that someone in Sacramento or DC will recognize that they need to regulate this new gold rush and ensure that land management is based on how the public values the wilderness, and not private interests.

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  3. Why would the general public, the people of California, the outdoor recreation users of the Mojave Desert want to give away this wonderful area to private corporations for the development of wind farms, solar ranches and high voltage transmission lines. The wilderness would be developed and fenced, all access to lost to any recreational use. The wildlife corridors would be blocked and all things natural would suffer.
    Keep development on previously disturbed lands.
    I support the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 and would hope others would join me in keeping the Mojave Desert natural and wild.

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  4. thank you Anonymous, I hope you share your comments with folks like Congressman Jerry Lewis or even the candidates for California's Governor. These decision-makers need to know that the desert is not a wasteland, but a wilderness that we Americans cherish.

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