Posts

Showing posts with the label Interior

Renewable Energy Legislation Would Slash Environmental Protection

Image
The Wilderness Society is endorsing a bill that would encourage more corporate development of public lands, and allow Washington to undermine the National Environmental Police Act (NEPA).  The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act ( S. 1407, H.R. 2663) would require the Department of Interior to identify priority and "variance" development areas for wind and geothermal energy, adding to the controversial Solar Energy Zones and variance lands established in 2012.  The bill would not require "exclusion areas," would add staffing to speed up renewable energy permitting, and would allow Washington to short-circuit environmental review.

More of the Same...
Landscape-level planning could ostensibly protect desert wildlands, but programmatic energy development plans have shown significant deference to industry and offer environmental shortcuts for industry to bulldoze significant swaths of intact habitat.  If you want to imagine what will happen if the Public Land R…

Investigation Sheds Light on Industry Influence over Desert Policy

Image
The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Interior released a report this month confirming that a senior Obama administration official with cozy ties to the renewable energy industry pressured subordinates to ignore environmental concerns in favor of providing rubber-stamp approval to power plants.  The IG report focuses on the actions of Steve Black - who retired from Interior in 2013 and served as senior counselor to former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar  - because he dated a lobbyist for renewable energy company NextEra and also put his name forward to serve as CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), all while continuing to manage the approval of renewable energy projects on public lands.  At the very least, Mr. Black's actions constitute the appearance of impropriety that undermines our ability to trust Interior leadership to manage public lands based on sound science rather than special interests.

As senior counselor to the Secretary of Interior, Black ha…

The DRECP: To Protect or Undo the Desert?

Image
The Department of Interior this week will unveil the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), and it is a big deal.  The DRECP will establish "development focus areas" where the review and approval of large-scale renewable energy projects will be streamlined, and will identify other lands for additional conservation measures.  How much of each - destruction and conservation - and which lands will be affected will be revealed in the draft later this week. 

The DRECP is a big deal because it will propose the most significant changes to how we manage the California desert since Congress first ordered Interior to take better care of the of these lands decades ago.  In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that ordered Interior to establish the California Desert Conservation Area Plan (CDCA) "to provide for the immediate and future protection and administration of the public lands in the California desert within the framework of a …

Federal District Court to Hear Case on Ivanpah Valley on Monday

Image
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 …

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…

Reforming Visual Resource Management in the Desert

Image
America's southwestern deserts are home to some grand vistas where we can enjoy the serenity of a place mostly undisturbed by human development, and it is our obligation to protect the relatively intact landscapes that remain for the enjoyment of future generations.    However, our land management practices offer only fragmented and incomplete protection to these visual resources - pockets of mountain wilderness surrounded by unprotected valleys.  The result is that destructive projects can be permitted in remote areas that destroy not only the land on which they are built, but also spoil an otherwise intact vista of mountains and valleys that seem to stretch beyond the horizon, all in Mother Nature's domain.  We will need careful consideration of these visual resources in California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), and vocal community support for legislation such as the California Desert Protection Act and other conservation bills.   But from a more sy…

Laws Not Enforced as Wind Industry Kills More Birds and Bats

Image
The Associated Press published a thorough article examining the number of eagles and other protected birds being killed by wind energy projects -- many built on remote wildlands -- and highlighting the Department of Interior's unwillingness to hold the wind industry accountable to laws meant to protect wildlife.   With over 573,000 birds killed by wind turbines each year,  according to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, as well as a significant number of bats, the Department of Interior can only point to superficial and voluntary guidelines that the wind industry continues to ignore.

Some environmentalists attempt to downplay the problem, as Sierra Club editor Paul Rauber did in a Sierra magazine article earlier this year that described hundreds of thousands of bird deaths each year as "trivial."  The wind industry responded to the Associated Press article with the same argument employed by Mr. Rauber, stating that buildings, cars, and cats kill even more birds each year.  …

The Next Four Years

Image
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…

First Solar's Silver State South: Wrong from the Start

Image
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this month issued a supplemental draft environmental impact statement supporting First Solar's proposed Silver State South solar facility, which would be built on a narrow strip of desert that has also been recognized as a critical desert tortoise connectivity corridor.  BLM intends to approve a modified layout of the solar project that would destroy up to 4.8 square miles of mostly intact desert wildlands between the small gambling outpost of Primm, Nevada and the Lucy Gray Mountains.  The project layout preferred by the BLM appears to ignore a recommendations by the US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), and Washington is rushing to approve the project before further wildlife connectivity studies are completed.

Project Benefits from Washington's Duplicitous Ivanpah Policy
The Ivanpah Valley has been subject to contradictory Federal actions and decisions that suggest Washington's land stewardship goals in this corner of the northeastern Mojave De…