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Showing posts from January, 2014

Keystone XL Clears Environmental Hurdle, but Outcome Far From Certain

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The Department of State today issued the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would deliver up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada to Nebraska, linking to an existing pipeline that would then make the oil accessible to ports in the Gulf of Mexico.  An initial read of the EIS suggests State is laying the groundwork for the Obama administration to approve the pipeline because the document assesses that the pipeline would not have a significant impact on the climate.  Although we have seen this plenty of times before - an EIS downplays the impacts of a project and signals impending approval - the outcome is far from certain in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The President claimed in his June 2013 climate speech that he would evaluate whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline based on its overall contribution to the climate crisis; he should instead ask whether the Federal government should facilitate a 5.4 bill…

One Bird

Washington, D.C. was recently captivated by the arrival of a snowy owl downtown.  The raptors don't normally find their way this far south, but apparently much of the country has seen an influx of these beautiful birds.  The reason for the snowy owl invasion is not quite clear, but some ornithologists hypothesize that a successful breeding year has driven many of the birds further south to establish their own territory.  Regardless of how the bird got to the city, it was welcomed with coverage in the Washington Post under a "breaking" headline.  Social media buzz about the bird's location also brought onlookers to the city block where it rested before a night's hunt.  People took pictures from the sidewalk and from cars, and traveled from other parts of the metro area just to catch a glimpse.

Within five days of all the buzz, the snowy owl was hit by a bus, and taken to veterinarians for treatment.  The Washington Post covered the owl's fate, and reported tha…

State of the Union 2014

In his State of the Union address, the President applauded the success of rooftop solar - noting that every four minutes another home or business goes solar.  He also encouraged Congress to cut subsidies for fossil fuels.  Importantly, he also vowed to protect pristine federal lands for future generations.

If the United States can execute on this vision, we can deliver a promising future that slashes fossil fuel emissions, generates clean energy in a responsible fashion, and preserves our country's natural treasures and open spaces.

However, the Obama administration's track record on conservation and responsible energy development is poor.  The President's all of the above energy strategy has scarred public lands with more natural gas wells and fracking,  allowed drilling in the Arctic, and permitted massive solar projects on some of the most important wildlife corridors in the Mojave Desert.  It is time to abandon this reckless approach and focus on a sustainable future t…

FOIA Documents Shed Light on Closed-Door Meetings on Eagle Deaths

Documents received by the American Bird Conservancy in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request shed light on numerous closed-door meetings from October 2012 through at least March 2013 that the Department of Interior held with a coalition of wind industry and conservation group representatives - known as the "Group of 16" - to continue the "dialogue" on two policy efforts that impact bald and golden eagles: 1) Interior's plans to completely revise the eagle take permit rule, and 2) a revision to the eagle take rule specifically allowing companies to kill bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years.  Interior finalized the 30-year eagle take permits in December 2013, but has not yet finalized the more comprehensive revisions to the eagle take rule.  The American Bird Conservancy has expressed concern that the invitation-only meetings may have violated rules and laws designed to maintain transparency and public participation in how the Federal go…

Get Out and Explore, Learn

If you live in the southwest or plan travel there early this year, here are a few opportunities to engage, explore, and learn about the desert!

Desert Survivors

If you're looking for opportunities to camp and hike some of the most remote parts of our deserts, check out the Desert Survivors - they organize frequent hikes and camping trips.  You'll have to join the group (a nominal fee, and file a release).  They have seven trips planned from now until April -later this month they will be exploring Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and then the Turtle Mountains in February.   Membership is worth it - you'll get their regular newsletter, and contribute to the group's desert conservation service and advocacy.

Desert Institute

The Desert Institute sponsored by the Joshua Tree National Park Associations has a robust schedule of field trips and lectures geared toward ecology, culture, and history of the desert.  Although many of the events are in the vicinity of the park, some of…

Four Mojave Wind Projects Begin Early Environmental Review

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At least four separate wind projects in the Mojave Desert are in the early stages of environmental review, according to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) land records database, and would industrialize over 76 square miles of intact desert and ridgeline if they receive final approval.   Energy companies are interested in several other swaths of the Mojave, but are only evaluating the strength of wind resources or have not taken significant steps toward environmental review.

Laurel Mountain Wind

L.H. Renewables, LLC, A Redlands-based corporate entity registered to a post office box, has submitted a plan of development for the Laurel Mountain wind project, which would involve installing as many as 130 wind turbines on nearly 40 square miles of intact desert west of Ridgecrest.  The company has been testing wind resources in the area for years, and as of early November the BLM initiated environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.  

The Laurel Mountain wind pr…

Los Angeles Sells Out Manzanar, Again

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What does it say about our respect for the past that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is willing to ignore empty rooftops and parking lots within L.A. city limits - perfectly capable of hosting solar panels - to instead build a massive solar plant right across from the historic site of the first Japanese American internment camp built in 1942? 

As a place, the desert holds a lot of meaning for many people, each of whom holds a different perspective of the desert as an individual.  A peaceful getaway for city-dwellers, a terrain whose story is told in Native American salt songs of spiritual significance, and a place of bittersweet hardship for explorers and miners who sought their fortunes in an unforgiving landscape.   Our perspectives of the desert can be bundles of emotion as varied as the topography and wildlife that calls the desert home.

The desert tells our story as individuals, but also as a society - the good and the bad.  One of those stories is about…