Showing posts from June, 2012

Nevada Lands Bill Would Create Monument, and Encourage Sprawl

Nevada Senators Reid and Heller introduced a bill (S. 3346) on 27 June that would designate a new national monument, but the legislation would also allow the construction of a new transmission line through that monument and give away significant swaths of other public lands to developers and utility companies throughout the southern Nevada region.  The legislation is being touted in the press as a significant conservation bill, but the national monument may only be a sweetener to accompany compromises that will facilitate Las Vegas' continued sprawl into desert wildlands.

Disposal of Public Lands
Residents of southern Nevada have fought for years to establish the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, and the bill would indeed protect 22,650 acres of the area and transfer that land to the National Park Service.  But the "Las Vegas Valley Public Land and Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Act of 2012"  would provide significant benefit to developers and indust…

Massive Wind Project Continues to Consume Mojave

The Alta Wind Energy Centercontinues to consume and industrialize dozens of square miles of desert habitat in the western Mojave Desert.  The total project area already encompasses over 50 square miles -- nearly 1.5 times the size of Manhattan -- and continues to expand.   Hundreds of wind turbines -- each over 420 feet tall -- require new roads and pads carved into desert soil to supply Southern California Edison (SCE) customers with "guilt free" wind energy.  Don't tell SCE customers that wind turbines require immense amounts of cement, steel and copper to deliver that energy to them, not to mention natural gas "peaker" plants running in the background.   Meanwhile, a UCLA study found that Los Angeles County could meet much of its energy demands with solar panels on rooftops or over parking lots

The Bureau of Land Management is now accepting comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the expansion of Alta wind project onto public lands.…

The Most Sought After Wasteland

Many people still entertain the notion that the desert is a "barren" wasteland, devoid of life and human value, as a recent KCET piece points out.  Beyond the obviously erroneous ecological assumptions behind that notion, I am also amazed at how many people portray the desert as an endless resource waiting to be granted utility by human genius.  The fact of the matter is that we have struggled to manage demand for desert resources for decades, and humans -- out of love and ignorance -- have demanded more from the the desert than it can give.  The relatively recent debate over siting renewable energy projects in the desert is just the latest chapter.
As Congress set forth in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976:"the California desert environment and its resources, including certain rare and endangered species of wildlife, plants, and fishes, and numer­ous archeological and historic sites, are seriously threatened by air pollution, inadequate Federal manageme…

Brilliant Blooms

On my last visit to the Mojave National Preserve,  I came across many of the cacti pictured below sporting brilliant red blooms, which I believe are Mojave mound cactus (welcome corrections on this identification!).  I never tired of admiring each one, which made it difficult to get anywhere in a timely manner.

John Muir, dead at age 175.

"What creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit--the cosmos? ... They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals." - John Muir, born 1838.

It is devastatingly ironic to me that the organization that John Muir created is transforming itself into a surrogate of the industrial menace that ravages what he loved. I've written on this before, and I ask for your patience once more.

If the Sierra Club leaders continue with their approach of supporting industry as the solution to the problem that is destroying nature, its credibility as an environmental organization will be severely eroded, and Sierra Club leadership may not notice the decline.  The Sierra Club will have failed at its founding purpose - the appreciation of nature and the protection of what John Muir called "God's cathedrals", referring to beautiful natural landscapes consisting of miracles big and small.

The Sierra Club today w…

Reid Gardner Coal vs. Energy Efficiency

A study commissioned by the Sierra Club found it is cheaper to shut down the dirty Reid Gardner coal power plant in the year 2013 and invest in energy efficiency measures than to keep the toxic plant running.  Despite the overwhelming benefits to health and economy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to consider allowing the coal power plant to run with marginal reductions in emissions, which inflict the nearby community of Moapa, and fill desert skies and National Parks with haze.

According to the study, shutting down all four Reid Gardner coal burners by 2013 would save Nevada residents $59 million dollars over the next 20 years, based on a scenario in which Nevada Power invested instead in enough energy efficiency upgrades to reduce power consumption by just 2%.  I suspect the report used a conservative estimate for the savings from energy efficiency measures. Consider California's requirement that energy vampires like cell phone chargers become more energy effi…

Foolish Landscape Defender

"John Muir is a fine Scotchman...but for all that it is too foolish to say that the imperative needs of a city to a full and pure water supply should be thwarted for the sake of a few trees or for scenery, no matter how beautiful it might be." -- Andrew Carnegie quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, 1913.

It's About Time!

Celebrating the Sierra Club's "Wind Works" lobbying campaign:

 All of that wildlerness is finally put to good use.

Sierra Club Launches Wind Works Campaign

The Sierra Club just launched its Wind Works campaign, lobbying on behalf of the American Wind Energy Association to extend subsidies for the wind industry.

Wind Works! *, **, ***, ****, *****, ****** * Wind requires natural gas peaker plants to run in the background, emitting greenhouse gasses. **Wind facilities will fragment at least 20,000 square miles of our land just to generate 20% of our energy. ***Wind turbines are expected to kill up to a million birds each year, including raptors and migratory birds. ****The wind industry does not accept Sierra Club advice on how to avoid killing wildlife. *****The wind industry testified before Congress to weaken environmental law. ******Energy efficiency and rooftop solar programs are a better alternative than wind, and can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without destroying ecologically intact lands.

Climate Change and the Desert

The desert -- just like the mountains of West Virginia and the tundra of the Arctic -- faces the grim reality of human-induced climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions from our vehicles and power plants.  The current and future impacts of human-induced climate change on the desert make it even more urgent to be good stewards of our wildlands here in the southwest.  A 16 May workshop for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) outlined some of the expected changes in the desert.  Here are numbers to be concerned about:
By 2050, the annual mean temperature in the Mojave Desert could climb as much as 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The mean temperature in the Sonoran Desert could climb as much as 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mean annual precipitation could fall  by as much as 2.6 inches in the Mojave, and 2.2 inches in the Sonoran Desert by 2050.Hot spells in both deserts would be more frequent/prolonged, with up to 27 more days per year experiencing temperatures above 90 degrees …

BrightSource Solar Project Will Endanger Water Supply in Inyo and Nye Counties

BrightSource Energy's proposed Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System (HHSEGS) is expected to significantly draw down local aquifers in California and Nevada, according to the California Energy Commission, unless the company can buy out local water users.   The solar project would be built on 5 square miles of privately owned land in California's Inyo County, right next to the border with Nye County, Nevada.  The facility would use nearly 45.6 million gallons of water each year for mirror washing and other services during operation, and up to 227.1 million gallons of water during the 29 month construction period.   The CEC's draft certifications would require the company to conduct well monitoring and offset its water draw by purchasing over 53 million gallons each year to restore the Pahrump Valley Groundwater Basin.

The facility's water draw could affect desert springs along the historic Old Spanish Trail that used to provide relief to weary desert travelers a…

Desert Peaks: Then and Now

In late 1952, Sierra Club member Bill Henderson roused excitement during a New Year's party for the Club's Desert Peaks section for an adventurous hike into the Coxcomb Mountains in present-day Joshua Tree National Park.  Written up in the Sierra Club Bulletin and Desert Magazine, the desert explorers reached the roughly 4400 foot high summit without trails.  As Louise Werner wrote in the May 1953 issue of Desert Magazine, "[t]he view to the southeast encouraged speculation and planning for future climbs. Range after range of desert mountains stretched as far as we could see: the Palens, the Granites, the Little Marias, the Big Marias.  Like an undulating carpet of chocolate-brown velvet, they stretched to the vanishing point."

Today, that same view is threatened by both climate change and industrial-scale renewable energy projects.  Developers have plans -- or have already begun construction -- on solar projects in many of the valleys in view from the Coxcomb summit…