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Showing posts with the label Feinstein

Senator Feinstein Reintroduces and Expands Desert Bill

Senator Feinstein this week introduced a revised version of her desert bill that would protect beautiful and remote stretches of the California desert while also setting the stage for significant land exchanges intended to allow for industrial development elsewhere in the state.  The bill would create two new national monuments, designate six new wilderness areas, and add acreage to existing national parks.   The new conservation areas would provide welcomed protection for over a million acres of desert wildlands that industry is eyeing for development.  However, the bill will also leave open the potential that new transmission lines will bisect the new monuments, and requires the Department of Interior to transfer nearly 370,000 acres of public lands elsewhere in California in exchange for parcels of land owned by the State of California that currently fall within the boundaries of desert wilderness, monuments and parks.

The bill is a reincarnation of the California Desert Protectio…

Important Week for America's Deserts

Stay tuned this week for a few policy and legal developments that will have an impact on our southwestern deserts, including the Mojave.

1.) Solar Programmatic Draft EIS:  The Department of the Interior is expected to release the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for its program to rapidly site and permit massive solar facilities on public land, mostly in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts.  Once the draft EIS is available,  probably by the end of the week, the Department of the Interior will accept public comments.  One of the key components to watch for are the boundaries of its proposed "solar energy zones," where utility-scale energy projects will be encouraged.  The initial "study zones" proposed late last year included ecologically important sites near the Cady Mountains in the Mojave, and throughout the Chuckwalla Valley in the Sonoran Desert.  Projects already approved for these areas by the Federal government and State of California threaten to displa…

Urge Legislators to Pass Wilderness Protections Now

My last post highlighted two pieces of legislation currently stuck in Congressional committees that could improve conditions in California's deserts.  I previously assessed that the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) was unlikely to see a full vote before the Senate and House before the end of the legislative calendar in November.   However, I just read analysis by Politico--a publication that closely follows trends on the Hill--that suggests a Republican turnover in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee could severely limit opportunities to protect western wilderness over the next few years.

Unfortunately, one of the misguided themes in recent political activism is that concern for the environment and protecting open space is synonymous with "big government" and "socialism".  The political figures that oppose environmental protections ironically boast of their patriotism and faith in God as reasons to allow private interests free …

Could CDPA 2010 Hitch a Ride With Another Sensible Renewable Energy Bill?

I keep coming back to the prognosis for the passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010, or S.2921) because even if I am pessimistic about its chances, I know Washington is an unpredictable arena where one has to keep an eye open for opportunities.  Part of me believes CDPA 2010 is unlikely to be considered by Congress this year.  As I've noted in previous posts, Senator Feinstein's proposed CDPA 2010 is still stuck in the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources, and Congress has plenty of business to consider in a relatively short amount of time, meaning that the bill faces an uphill battle.

However, there may be a fleeting window for the Senator's office to establish the two national monuments and host of other off-road recreation and wilderness designations included in CDPA 2010 by including her language in legislation that is more likely to be considered before the full Congress before the end of the year.  It appears that Congress is mu…

What Next for the California Desert Protection Act?

The mid-May Senate hearing for the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921) was a positive step for the legislation proposed by Senator Feinstein, considering most proposed legislation never makes it beyond the committee.   However, the hearings revealed technical objections from government agencies and some deeper concerns expressed by fellow Senators on the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources.   As noted in a previous post, the legislative calendar and political dynamics outside of California could eclipse the need for near-term sensible land management in the Mojave Desert, and CDPA may not even get the attention it deserves until next year. 

If Senator Feinstein's office can work with the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture to quickly incorporate the technical modifications sought by these agencies during the hearings, the Senator will still face more hurdles before the bill can be put to the full Senate before Congr…

Ranking Member of Senate Committee Guards Energy Companies

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 donot affect the Department of Energy's solar energy study zones, which are the only lands currently being evaluated by the Federa…

Department of Defense and Veteran Speak Out in Favor of Preserving California Desert Wilderness

A San Bernardino Sun opinion piece authored by a veteran that does not want to see his country's natural heritage bulldozed for hastily considered industrial development is included at the bottom of this post.  As I have noted in previous posts, the Mojave Desert has inspired generations of Americans, including the droves of US service members who have trained here.

Ironically, some of the opponents of Senator Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010 or S.2921) claim that efforts to protect desert wilderness from industrial development could also hinder the Department of Defense's ability to adequately prepare our troops.  (for an example, read here)  I think this claim is probably a cheap way to veil some policymaker's attempts to protect energy companies' attempts to develop public lands, rather than preserve DoD's efforts to maintain national security.

You can take a look at the testimony presented by the DoD at the CDPA 2010 hearing b…

Threatened Vistas

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Among the Mojave Desert treasures at stake as energy companies lay claim to vast tracts of BLM-managed desert wilderness are relatively unspoiled scenic vistas.  The view below was taken at dusk in the protected Mojave National Preserve.  Only a stretch of the lonely Kelbaker Road is visible in the distance and leading off to the west of creosote scrub and lava flows.  The California Desert Protection Act of 2010, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein, could help preserve more Mojave treasures before they are bulldozed by improperly sited industrial-scale energy development.  In the meantime, it is up to the California Energy Commission (CEC) and science-based surveys of Mojave and Colorado Desert resources to prevent the "solar rush" from trampling irreplaceable wilderness and wildlife.

Senator Feinstein Advocates for Solar on Private Land; Addresses Bureaucratic Process

In a letter to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed dismay with the slow Federal Government permitting process for solar projects proposed for private land.  In the letter, the Senator points out that renewable energy projects in California proposed for BLM (public) land benefit from a speedy permitting process, while projects proposed for private land languish because specific government agencies do not share the same commitment to a speedy process as much as BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Energy Commission (CEC).

This bureaucratic slow down could dissuade more energy companies from developing on private land, which is likely to be of less significant biological value and have less impact on the Mojave Desert. Particularly because energy companies are hurrying to complete certification before the end of the year so they can qualify for Department of Energy sponsored loans.

So what administrative road blocks are slowing down the per…

Can the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 be Passed this Year?

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Following the announcement of Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) in December, civic organizations across California have been seeking support from local city councils and members of Congress in order to pave the way for its introduction into Senate and then House debate.  Senator Feinstein indicated that she would like to see the bill (S.2921) at the Senate for a vote before the end of this year.  So how does it look for CDPA 2010?  Even though several town councils, off-road organizations, and conservation groups have joined to support the intent of the legislation--which would set aside 1.6 million acres for conservation and provide permanent off-road vehicle recreation areas--the legislation's passage may be threatened by political realities in Washington that ignore the local grassroots and civic support building behind the legislation in California.

Probably the biggest trend in American politics that could affect CDPA 2010 w…

Hi-Desert Wilderness Workshop: February 11th

The California Wilderness Coalition is sponsoring a workshop in Victorville on February 11th to discuss Senator Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act 2010 (CDPA 2010) and what you can do to ensure preservation of Mojave Desert wilderness.   You can read my initial posts on CDPA 2010 here and here.

Here is the relevant information if you're interested in attending the workshop:

Location: Sterling Inn - 17738 Francesca Road Victorville, CA 92395-5105 Date: February 11th, 2010 Time: 630-830PM contact: lwilliams@calwild.org

$50 Million Burried in the Mojave

That's right folks, if you are special enough to have access to ample capital, financing and real estate in the Mojave you can lay claim to thousands of acre-feet of water (1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons) deposited underneath the Mojave Desert, and earn $50 million dollars per year for as long as the water lasts, according to a Business Week article.  Unfortunately, this treasure hunt can impact the wildlife and people of the Southwest long after the treasure is spent.   Cadiz Inc, which has been growing lemons and raisins on some of its Mojave land as it conducted studies to ascertain the volume of subterranean water it could sell, is planning to pump that water as soon as it can manage the paper work.  The Cadiz funded study, conducted by CH2M Hill, suggests there is enough water for up to 400,000 people in the aquifer.  Although Feinstein has voiced opposition to the pumping, the political forces in California are likely to swamp the Senator's clout.

So what's the big de…

Ludlow...

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...Just one of many points of interest along the stretch of Route 66 that crosses through the Mojave Desert.  The town has seen better days, but Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (CDPA 2010) would place this town and many other places along the historic Route 66 within the boundaries of the Mojave Trails National Monument.  Ludlow was a water stop for the railroad as early as 1882, and also hosted miners with a hardy American spirit prospecting nearby hills for ore.

While much of the debate surrounding CDPA 2010 in the coming year is certain to focus on a parochially characterized clash between environmental and economic interests, we should not forget that within the Mojave Desert lies our national heritage intertwined with a natural heritage.  American Indians, settlers, homesteaders, the economic migrants of the Great Depression, and generations of military recruits and test pilots have all experienced the vast open wilderness and harsh solit…

CDPA 2010: Product of NIMBY Environmentalists?

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One of the dynamics that will inevitably unfold over the next year--assuming Senator Feinstein is able to get her proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 before Congress for a vote--will be opponent's attempts to frame CDPA 2010 as the product of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) environmentalists looking to shut out economic development. Read about early signs of opposition here.

The portrayal of Feinstein's legislation by opponents almost certainly will over-simplify the field of stakeholders by labeling what is actually a diverse array of opinions as stubborn NIMBY environmentalists.  Although you can count this blogger as an early supporter of the legislation's intent, I hope you never read anything on this blog that over-simplifies the arguments against CDPA 2010...if you do, call me out on it.


The California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (which established Mojave National Preserve, and designated Joshua Tree and Death Valley as National Parks) provides a useful case …

Rep. Jerry Lewis Set to Oppose CDPA 2010?

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Congressional Representative Jerry Lewis (41st District) has expressed concern that Senator Feinstein's proposed California Desert Protection Act 2010 (CDPA 2010) locks up too much desert land from potential energy development, mining, and military training, according to the Hi-Desert Star website.    Rep. Lewis' early opposition deserves some historical context.


The early California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (which created the Mojave National Preserve and upgraded Joshua Tree and Death Valley to National Park status) lacked compromise with some stakeholders-- recreational users, hunters, and ranchers.  Rep. Lewis took advantage of this and a hostile atmosphere toward environmental conservation among the newly empowered GOP-controlled congress to opposed the 1994 bill.  In the end, compromises were made and the 1994 CDPA passed, although Rep. Lewis budgeted only $1.00 to run the newly created Mojave National Preserve (MNP) in its infant years.

Rep. Lewis is signaling his i…

California Desert Protection Act of 2010

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Senator Feinstein's office released more details on her proposal to create two national monuments in the Mojave Desert on her official site.  In the press release, the Senator lays out policy implementation that balances the need to preserve desert wilderness,  and scenic vistas along the iconic and Historic Route 66, and reconciling this with the need to make the renewable energy siting question more efficient. The California Desert Protection Act of 2010 summary also lays out plans to designate an additional 250,000 acres of wilderness area on lands previously designated as wilderness study areas.


The plan is already receiving some negative attention, however, most notably from environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a New York Times interview.  Kennedy also happens to have a financial stake in solar energy development as an investor in Brightsource Energy.  In the interview Kennedy slams Feinstein for taking "land off the table without a proper and scientific environmenta…

Feinstein Proposes 2 national monuments in Mojave Desert

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According to an article in the LA Times (link below), Senator Dianne Feinstein revealed more details regarding her proposed legislation that would set aside additional Mojave Desert land for conservation as Mojave Trails National Monument and Sand to Snow National Monument.  The legislation would also establish current off-road vehicle areas as permanent.  Feinstein estimated that passage of the legislation would occur in late 2010 at the earliest, and the LA Times noted that the territory would include 19 areas sought after by energy companies for solar and wind development.


Based on the rough map posted with the LA Times article, it's not clear if the Ivanpah or Solar Energy One developments would be impacted by the proposed legislation. Separate legislation on solar energy by the Senator would add incentives for energy companies to consolidate "disturbed land" that is better suited for solar energy since it has less biological value.  Disturbed land is generally harder…