Reviewing the transcripts from the 20 May Senate hearing on the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource's opening comments struck me as ill-informed, and as knee-jerk opposition that assumes the effort to protect public land is somehow more reckless than the chaotic "gold rush" effort by energy companies to bulldoze pristine Mojave wilderness. In her comments, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) stated that the proposed legislation would "encumber" renewable energy development and take land off the table before the government had a chance to determine whether or not it would be suitable for renewable energy development.
Murkowski's argument was flawed for a few reasons:
1.) CDPA 2010's proposed national monuments and wilderness areas do not affect the Department of Energy's solar energy study zones, which are the only lands currently being evaluated by the Federal government for concerted renewable energy development.
2.) The Senator assumes that energy companies should have the first right to public lands in the Mojave Desert, which only shows that the Senator does not appreciate the dwindling desert wilderness for the other tangible and intangible benefits this land provides to the public.
3.) Murkowski compared the current approval process for renewable energy in California to the "10 year" process for wind energy on the east coast. Contrary to her fear, some solar projects in California are currently fast-tracked and could be approved by the end of the year.
Murkowski went on to argue that investors will become "gun shy" if the government intervenes in a project even when "the companies feel they have a good project," suggesting CDPA 2010 will send the wrong tone to private interests. Once again Murkowski suggests that Congress and the Federal Government should defer to the energy companies concerning their efforts to utilize public lands in the Mojave Desert. If Murkowski reviewed the environmental impact statements for some of the proposed solar energy projects (Ivanpah, Ridgecrest, Calico Solar), she would see that more often than not, when the energy companies "feel they have a good project," they are preparing to severely disrupt desert ecology in an irreparable way.
Murkowski's claim that more "evaluation" is needed to understand how CDPA 2010 would impact renewable energy development is a stall tactic that should be turned on its head. Instead, we should be taking more time to evaluate the cumulative impact of the dozens of proposed industrial scale energy projects proposed for the Mojave--an impact that CDPA 2010 recognizes and for which it is trying to compensate. The current process for evaluating and approving energy development in the Mojave is rushed by hasty political demands from Washington and Sacramento and favors energy company use of public lands for profit. If Murkowski's staff had done their homework, they would know that the impact of energy companies' attempts develop solar energy fields several square miles each--one would be larger than Los Angeles International Airport--has already been scientifically evaluated, and indicates that damage would be done to the endangered desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel, as well as several special status plant and bird species. The Senator's suggestion that CDPA 2010 is closing the door on energy development is blind to the reality that energy development is already beginning to stampede onto priceless desert wilderness.