With over 1,000 square miles of destructive renewable energy projects proposed for public lands in California -- mostly in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts -- the California Desert Protection Act of 2011 (CDPA 2011, S.138) appears to be the most extensive proposal to spare desert lands from the prospect of unnecessary industrial development. Senator Dianne Feinstein actually first proposed the legislation in 2010, but Congress was mired in protracted debate on other issues that year, including health care legislation and last minute deals to put in place a stop-gap budget deal. Feinstein reintroduced CDPA in January this year, but we are days away from the end of another legislative calendar and the bill still has not moved beyond the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Congress is still deadlocked on spending issues.
For perspective, it took two years for Feinstein to get her last desert protection bill passed, which was signed in October 1994, and that was with a relatively more functional Congress. That proposal was preceded by years of citizen advocacy.
But CDPA 2011 is far from a dead idea. In a nod to the Senator's efforts, the Obama Administration testified in support of the proposal in May 2010, and in November 2011 the Department of Interior identified lands in multiple states deserving conservation, including the areas proposed in Feinstein's CDPA 2011. Interior's proposal was submitted to Congress in the hopes of spurring a lands conservation bill. I would not hold my breath for legislative action given the gridlock in Congress, but it's a good sign that the administration still backs the idea, which the President could ultimately support with an Antiquities Act directive.
The map below shows the wilderness areas and two new monuments that would be created by CDPA 2011.
California Desert Protection Act 2011