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

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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…

Salazar Implements Solar Development Policy

As expected, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar signed the record of decision, officially implementing the Obama administration's Solar Energy Development Program.  For the most part, the policy codifies the status quo -- handing energy corporations wide access to public wildlands.  The initial intent of the policy proposal was to limit the destructive solar energy projects to specific zones, but after intense lobbying by the energy industry, the Obama administration included the option for companies to propose projects on nearly 30,000 square miles of "variance" lands outside of approximately 445 square miles of the solar energy zones.  This wide access to wildlands is the cause of so much concern among conservationists, since energy companies have sought to build on critical desert habitat, instead of already-disturbed lands.

Groups such as the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife suggested development should be limited to the zones, which already provided more land th…

Conservation Groups Decry Interior Authorization of Deadly Wind Project

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Western Watersheds, and Biological Conservation Alliance issued a statement calling out the Department of Interior for greenwashing its authorization of the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind project,  an industrial energy facility that could prove to be very deadly to golden eagles, and other birds and bats.  I wrote earlier about Interior's celebration that its authorization of the project pushed it past its goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public wildlands, a rather grim statistic. It is heartening to find groups working to defend our landscapes and wildlife from unnecessary destruction.  We absolutely need renewable energy to displace toxic fossil fuels, but we do not need to sacrifice some of our most special wild.  There are more sustainable alternatives to such callous corporate destruction of nature.

Tortoises Handled by BrightSource Facing Hard Times

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BrightSource Energy's negative impact on the desert tortoise population in the northeastern Mojave Desert continues to be felt, as tortoises removed from their burrows to make way for bulldozers or other construction equipment continue to go missing or die.  As of August, three tortoises translocated from BrightSource holding pens, and four others recently handled by BrightSource crews have been killed -- at least six of them by coyotes.  The translocated tortoises probably were more vulnerable to predators and other environmental factors after being displaced from their habitat to make way for BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar project.   In May the company reported to the California Energy Commission that six tortoises held in BrightSource's pens went missing, while several tortoises died last year after being attacked by ants in the pens.

Biologists have warned that tortoises relocated from their home territory can be more susceptible to predation, may have difficulty finding …

Interior Celebrates Grim Statistic

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The Department of Interior reached its goal of approving 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects on public lands this week.  As people across the globe look for places to install solar panels in their cities or on already-disturbed lands, Washington DC has decided that it will stick to the tired tradition of feeding our energy addiction by destroying beautiful landscapes.

The Sierra Madre/Chokecherry Wind project in Wyoming --the project that pushed Interior over the 10,000 MW mark -- is very representative of the unsustainable direction our industrial renewable energy policy is taking.  It will destroy and fragment nearly 355 square miles of Wyoming wildlands, and scientists estimate that it could kill as many as 5,400 birds and 6,300 bats each year Wyoming's air and water were already sacrificed to the natural gas and coal industries, now even more pristine lands and wildlife will be lost. The customers of this energy could be hundreds of miles away, requiring new transm…

Algodones Dunes Lose Protection

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The Bureau of Land Management finalized its Recreation Area Management Plan for the Imperial Sand Dunes  (a.k.a. Algodones Dunes) last month, stripping nearly 40 square miles of fragile dune ecosystem of its area of critical environmental concern status and prioritizing motorized recreation over ecosystem sustainability. The decision is expected to imperil vast swaths of microphyll woodland and psammophytic scrub habitat, which host many rare plant and insect species, including many that are only found in the Algodones Dunes.

Before BLM modified its management of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders had unrestricted access to 137 square miles of the dunes, and limited access to 81 square miles, for a total recreation area almost 7 times larger than Manhattan.  The new plan will expand the unrestricted OHV area to 199 square miles, and cut the protected habitat from 117 square miles to 54.

The decision comes as land managers are still working to det…

Southern Nevada Wildlands Face Industrial Transformation

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By 2020, Nevadans may not recognize the once open wildlands they enjoy outside of Las Vegas, as renewable energy corporations backed by Wall Street have proposed to industrialize roughly 410 square miles of desert habitat in nearly every scenic vista within an hour's drive of the metropolis.
A slew of solar companies have applied, or have been approved to construct 19 solar facilities in desert valleys, each consuming several square miles of land.  Wind companies, on the other hand, are exploring options to build 6 different facilities, and the average project would fragment and industrialize over 27 square miles of desert mountains and foothills of southern Nevada.  Transmission lines constitute the third greatest threat to wild lands, as utility companies plan to add dozens of miles of new transmission lines across the region to connect new solar and wind projects to the grid. Doubling Vegas' Sprawl If all of the projects are constructed,  energy companies will have destroyed …