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Showing posts from March, 2014

IPCC Assessment Underscores Climate Change Danger

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth assessment report yesterday, underscoring the present and future threat climate change poses to human society, wildlife and wildlands.  A good reference for what needs to be done to protect our wildlands can be found in the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, which details the threat climate change poses to a variety of ecosystems, and the steps needed to help species cope with what is likely to be long-term damage.

As I noted in my previous post about this strategy when it was released, the number one goal identified in the strategy is the conservation of habitat and wildlife linkages to help species adapt and bolster ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change.  According to the Strategy:

"Many of our nation’s imperiled species (both those currently listed either as Threatened or Endangered as well as many other species that may eventually be considered for listing) do not occu…

Federal District Court to Hear Case on Ivanpah Valley on Monday

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Defenders of Wildlife on Monday will argue before the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California that First Solar should not be allowed to begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley this spring because of the irreparable harm the projects would incur on critical desert tortoise habitat.  The Department of Interior permitted the projects even though biologists - including at the Fish and Wildlife Service - have argued that no additional large-scale development should take place in the Ivanpah Valley because it could impair a critical habitat linkage for the threatened desert tortoise.

The Department of Interior, California Energy Commission, and First Solar have filed notices in opposition to Defenders of Wildlife, claiming that the projects are critical components of Federal and State renewable energy programs, but failing to justify why these two projects must be built on such important wildlife habitat.  First Solar …

The Cost of Grid Worship

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) seems to be declaring a truce in a battle that has barely begun in an op-ed it co-authored with California utility company PG&E (yes, the same company that poisoned desert community groundwater with hexavalent chromium to pump natural gas).  While I appreciate the need to exploit opportunities for common good when interests align, I see the NRDC's move as a losing bet for the environment because PG&E fundamentally opposes the opportunity we have today to greatly expand energy efficiency and distributed generation; when PG&E claims support for these, it is usually only because it has been ordered by California regulators to do so.  A utility company's default preference is to build more centralized infrastructure, regardless of whether or not it is efficient or friendly to the environment.  With our planet facing two intertwined crises - global warming caused by our greenhouse gas emissions and the growth of the human pop…

BLM Seeks Public Comments on Silurian Valley Solar Proposal

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The Bureau of Land Management is considering Spain-based company Iberdrola's request to build a solar project on several square miles of the remote Silurian Valley, a beautiful stretch of desert along what KCET has described as California's "outback highway" - over 200 miles of two lane road that provides one of the best opportunities in the country to access solitude and wildlands.  BLM must take extra steps to review the application because the project is not proposed for a designated solar energy zone, and BLM has the discretion to scrap the project before it begins environmental review.  Iberdrola is also interested in building a large wind facility in the Silurian Valley, although those plans have not been advanced recently.

The Silurian Valley is surrounded by desert wilderness areas, and is home to spring wildflower blooms and a segment of the 1,000 mile historic trade route known as Old Spanish Trail.  You can see some beautiful photos of the Silurian Valley …

Defenders of Wildlife Steps in to Protect Critical Tortoise Habitat

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Defenders of Wildlife filed a legal challenge this week against the Department of Interior's decision to permit two large solar projects along the California-Nevada border because each would significantly impair a critical desert tortoise habitat linkage.  The challenge calls out the Department of Interior's own doublespeak with respect to the need for "responsible development of renewable energy on our public lands."  The solar projects in question - First Solar's Stateline and Silver State South - would destroy a total of over 6.3 square miles of habitat in the Ivanpah Valley; this area not only provides genetic connectivity across the tortoise's range, but research also shows the valley will "retain the precipitation and temperature levels necessary to sustain the species" through anticipated impacts of climate change.  First Solar refused to consider relocating the projects to already-disturbed lands, and the Department of Interior decided to pe…

This is Not Disturbed Land

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Recent press articles suggest the energy industry continues its efforts to define the ecological viability of desert habitat in a way that gives it wide latitude to build in some of the most remote corners of the American southwest.

First, the Bechtel corporation told SCPR reporter Caitlin Esch that it should be allowed to bulldoze over 3.4 square miles of desert to build its Soda Mountain Solar project next to the Mojave National Preserve because “[t]here are distribution lines, phone lines, petroleum pipelines, a cell phone tower, a mine, off-highway vehicle recreation area, it’s also permitted for high speed rail."  Apparently some phone lines, buried pipelines, and a cell phone tower in a valley means the rest of the intact habitat is not worth saving.  In other words, Bechtel should be allowed to disturb as much as 2,800 football fields worth of land because some telephone lines already exist in the valley.   The project will also pump over 62.5 million gallons during cons…

BrightSource Makes Weak Case for Palen Solar Project

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BrightSource Energy filed a relatively weak argument for why the California Energy Commission (CEC) should reconsider its opinion of the Palen Solar project in the Colorado Desert region of southern California.  A Presiding Member Proposed Decision in December recommended that the full Commission reject the project primarily because of the impacts on wildlife, but BrightSource requested more time so that it could make a stronger case that its project would not be a problem for wildlife.

The data submitted by BrightSource suggests its design is likely more harmful to birds than other types of technology, and that if the Palen project is built it would add significantly to the cumulative impact on birds in the Chuckwalla Valley region and pose new dangers.   The data submitted by BrightSource compares bird mortality at its Ivanpah Solar project - located further north near Las Vegas - to the Genesis and Desert Sunlight Solar projects in the Chuckwalla Valley area.  In the few months tha…