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Showing posts from February, 2013

Amargosa Toad

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I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a rare desert amphibian this month, thanks to the folks at Basin and Range Watch.  The Amargosa toad lives along a roughly ten mile stretch of the Amargosa River and associated springs in the Nevada desert.  The toad's habitat is threatened by human development and pumping of water resources, but luckily some local residents and the Nature Conservancy are working to preserve some of its habitat along the river.

Although this toad only inhabits a small stretch, the Amargosa River actually stretches about 185 miles from Nevada into the Mojave Desert, just east of Death Valley National Park, and supports an array of wildlife, including migratory birds. 

BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar project may be a potential threat to the Amargosa River and its tributaries.  Although the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff acknowledges that the Hidden Hills project impacts will be most severe for the Pahrump Valley groundwater basin…

Study: Lakes Mead and Powell to Dry Up

A US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station study predicts that water levels at Lakes Mead and Powell -- reservoirs created to help feed the west's unsustainable demand for water -- are likely to drop to zero in approximately 60 years, in part due to climate change and increased drought in the Colorado River watershed.  The west has already faced alarming water shortages due to rapidly expanding cities and agriculture drawing from reservoirs and groundwater, but the changing precipitation patterns are likely to aggravate this shortage.

Las Vegas has aggressively sought to secure its future supply of water, investing in a new drain pipeline to connect to Lake Mead.  Dropping water levels at Lake Mead threaten to sink below the level of the current pipeline siphoning water to the metropolis, and Las Vegas has implemented drastic water rate increases to pay for the new pipeline. 

Further down the road, Las Vegas plans a multi-billion dollar pipeline to the northern reaches o…

Coal Loses Control

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The "clean" coal car takes a beating in a fossil fuel-powered sport.

Sierra Industries

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Imagine if John Muir was in love with industry as the present day Sierra Club leadership.  If that were the case, I don't think we'd have a Sierra Club.  Mr. Muir would have been swept away with industry and the concrete canyons of the city.  Chris Clarke helps us imagine what John Muir would have thought of a once wild valley now filled with turbines and solar panels.  If we don't get renewable energy on a more sustainable path, we wont be able to share as many wild places with the next generations.  Check out Chris' full article here.

A sample from Chris' piece:
Even when the grand anthem had swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones of individual turbines — GE, and Vesta, and Iberdrola, and Siemens — and even the infinitely gentle rustle of the withered red bromegrass at my feet. Each was expressing itself in its own way — singing its own song, and making its own peculiar gestures — manifesting a richness of variety to be found…

Sierra Club Publication Promotes Industry Over Wildlife

After flipping through the pages of the Sierra Club's latest issue of Sierra magazine, I am left with a deep disappointment as the organization -- of which I am a member -- continues to sound more like an industry lobby group than a conservation organization.   Much of the March/April issue is dedicated to exulting the wind industry, with less than a page of material that provides a weak description of the industry's impact on wildlife and wildlands, describing the death of birds and bats by wind turbines as "trivial," and placing a lot of optimistic emphasis on the industry's ability to self-regulate.  As another blogger put it, "Not From The Onion: Sierra Magazine’s All-Wind Issue."

The Sierra Club's communication team cannot seem to promote renewable energy while adhering to a conservation ethic, despite ample opportunities to do so, suggesting the wind industry carries substantial influence over the organization and that the battle to eliminate h…

Keystone And The Long Fight

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I would recommend reading a recent piece by David Roberts on Grist.  Mr. Roberts takes on critics who say that the environmental movement's focus on the Keystone XL pipeline is "unreasonable".  Although I have worried that the White House may consider Keystone as an easy escape from taking other bold positions to cut fossil fuels and protecting wildlands -- reject Keystone but then compromise on other fossil fuel policies -- I think Mr. Roberts lays out an excellent case for why we have to stake out bold positions, even if it means earning an "unreasonable" label. 

Our wildlands face a serious threat from climate change and continued human destruction.  This calls for "rapid, systemic change," as Mr. Roberts highlights.  This has its own special relevance in the desert -- beyond the need to cut fossil fuels and stem climate change impacts, we also need to demand more from the renewable energy industry.  We need to keep large-scale projects away from p…

NextEra Kills Golden Eagles as American Bird Conservancy Asks Interior to Reconsider Plan

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) this week asked the Department of Interior to reconsider its plan to allow wind energy companies to kill bald and golden eagles for a period of 30 years, instead of the standard five years.  ABC requested that Department of Interior delay its decision on the plan until President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, has time to review the proposal.ABC's request is urgent because wind energy projects already in operation have already had a significant toll on raptor and bat populations, and the wind industry continues to expand rapidly.  In the past month, NextEra Energy's North Sky River wind project killed its first golden eagle within weeks of beginning operation on the western edge of the Mojave Desert.  Both the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged a legal challenge against the North Sky River project, and NextEra ignored their concerns. Although the Sierra Club is a party to the protest, its

President Promises More Destruction for Wildlands

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In his State of the Union speech, President Obama vowed to speed up permitting for energy projects -- including oil and gas -- on public wildlands, and a potentially ominous call to invest in modernizing "pipelines".  The President is sticking to his "all of the above" energy approach that has had significant impacts on our desert landscapes, including inappropriately sited solar and wind projects that have already industrialized dozens of square miles of public lands.  

It is hard to appreciate the President's proposal for energy and fuel efficiency investments when he remains committed to sacrificing our wildlands to private industry and increasing natural gas and oil production.  Our wildlands are already burdened by climate change. Converting more of those lands to industrial use -- whether for solar energy, natural gas, or coal -- is simply more of the status quo we have faced over the last century.


The President's energy policy is not a plan for progre…

The Next Four Years

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The President today nominated REI chief and former Mobil Oil executive Sally Jewell to be the next Secretary of Interior.  I do not envy Jewell because the President and his outgoing Secretary of Interior -- Ken Salazar -- have made it imperative that the next four years look starkly different than the last four years.  After the first four years, President Obama has used administrative powers to protect 186,077 acres of public lands, according to the New York Times, which means he'll have serious catching up to do if he wants to reach George W. Bush's 700,000 acres, although that is a very low bar to set.

Rather than preserve our natural resources, Obama and Salazar during the first four years opened up millions of acres to the energy industry -- including oil, gas, solar and wind projects -- that have fragmented and destroyed our deserts, grasslands and forests (not to mention the offshore drilling they have approved).   The President's "all of the above" energ…

Nevada Wildlife Official Ousted

Nevada is probably looking for a new director for its Department of Wildlife, but if you want to protect wildlife habitat, don't bother applying.  The New York Times has a good write-up worth reading on the ouster of the Director of Nevada's Department of Wildlife, who was apparently focused on preserving habitat for the greater sage grouse in the Great Basin desert.  Mr. Kenneth Mayer had previously been ousted after ranchers and hunters complained that he did not support predator control -- killing mountain lions and coyotes -- to boost deer populations. 

It is no surprise then that Nevada falls behind other states in conservation planning, despite facing significant levels of proposed development.

Bitter Cold

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I got up early to watch the sun rise from a small patch of Joshua Tree woodland habitat in the western Mojave.  I parked the car along a two lane road and ventured into the dark desert, chasing a rapidly setting moon to the west as the faint light of dawn crept up on me from the east.


I walked for a few minutes and my hands were already numb from the cold wind.  All of the creosote bushes that combed the wind in the darkness came into view as the sun's light silhouetted the San Gabriel mountains.  From this patch of desert I could momentarily convince myself that I had found solitude, even though I was standing on an island of habitat slowly being engulfed by new housing tracts and shopping centers.  Two lanes become four, and stop signs become traffic signals.  Joshua trees become car dealerships and rabbitbrush become fast food restaurants.

Humans have always used and respected the desert's power, but now these beautiful wildlands are merely an obstacle to the growth of the …

Citizens Fight Natural Gas Plant Outside San Diego

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San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) wants a new natural gas-fired power plant built east of San Diego, but local organizations --including Save the Mission Trails, San Diego Sierra Club and 350.org chapters -- are asking the utility to instead invest in local rooftop solar deployment and energy efficiency.  The utility company argues that the peaker plant is necessary to offset the intermittency of wind and solar, although distributed generation spread out across our urban areas and energy efficiency investments probably would offset any claimed need for more fossil fuel generation.

SDG&E did not bother to show up to a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) meeting where members of the public expressed their concerns, and CPUC again delayed a vote to either reject or accept SDG&E's plans to buy energy from the proposed natural gas plant.  Save the Mission Trails reported on their website that lobbyists and officials from Cogentrix -- the company that would build …

Trivializing Loss of Life to Defend Industry

I am looking forward to the next issue of Sierra magazine because it will feature an article regarding the wind industry's impacts on birds and bats.  The author, Paul Rauber, wrote a good piece in the last issue on distributed generation, and some of the policy reforms necessary to expand deployment of community solar.  However, as I pointed out earlier this week, Mr. Rauber thought that a graphic and article published by Mother Jones comparing bird mortality by wind turbines to bird mortality by cats was a useful piece of information to share with the Sierra Club's thousands of followers in a separate piece published on the Club's website.  The Mother Jones article and graphic not only portray the loss of 440,000 birds a year as trivial, but also suggests that enforcement of bird conservation law on the wind industry is a tool of renewable energy "opponents."  The article boils down two complex and different problems into an unsophisticated and kitschy graphic …