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Can Ivanpah Be Saved?

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The Department of Interior issued a Record of Decision this week approving two more massive solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley.  With this approval, First Solar could begin construction of the Silver State South and Stateline Solar projects as soon as this spring, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concern that the projects could destroy a key habitat linkage for the imperiled desert tortoise.  Conservation groups have asked Interior and First Solar to consider alternative locations for the project, and Defenders of Wildlife in November warned that it may challenge Interior's review of the projects under the Endangered Species Act.

There is no good reason why these projects must be built in Ivanpah, but plenty of reasons why they should be built elsewhere.  First Solar picked sites close to transmission lines and secured a power purchase agreement with utility companies without consideration of how these choices might impact our desert wildlands and wildlife,…

Desert Conservation Languishes As Industrial Uses Expand

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As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to facilitate the march of industry into relatively remote corners of America's desert wildlands, efforts to set aside these natural treasures are slow going as Congress has been jammed up by partisan squabbling, and the President has been shy about using his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate monuments.   Waiting for conservation by executive or legislative action may seem worthwhile when you consider that those protections will be more permanent, but what seems to be most lacking in our deserts is proactive conservation through the land management process administered by the BLM; other than islands of critical habitat designated for some endangered species, land use management plans seem to do little to prevent industrial-scale development on land considered to hold important wildlife, scenic and recreation values.

New Mexico Gets a Monument, and May Get A Second This Year

Despite the President's overall reluctanc…

Destructive Ivanpah Solar Project To Finally Start Operations

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Government officials and executives are expected to flip the switch on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on February 13, over three years after BrightSource Energy and its lead investor, NRG, began bulldozing pristine desert to build the project.   During the 3+ years it took these companies to replace over 5.6 square miles of intact ecosystem to build 377 megawatts of solar capacity, Californians have added at least twice as much solar capacity with panels installed on rooftops or over parking lots, and even more capacity has been added with utility-scale projects built on already-disturbed lands.

Years of public relations efforts by NRG and BrightSource have not changed the fact that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the eastern Mojave Desert arguably represents one of the most destructive renewable energy projects permitted on public lands by the Obama administration.  The Ivanpah Solar project is to the Mojave what oil drilling would be to the Arctic Natio…

Will Utility Companies Charge You For Being Efficient?

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Will utility companies charge me extra because I cut my energy usage through efficiency improvements at home?  Utility companies across the country are proposing new fees for people who find a way to reduce their dependence on a dirty and destructive energy grid by operating rooftop solar systems.  The core of the utility companies' argument is that these homes and businesses with rooftop solar cut the amount of energy they need from the grid, and thus they reduce the amount they pay for the operation and maintenance of transmission lines and substations that bring them energy from far away places. 

There seems to be two major problems with utility company logic.  First, what will stop them from charging me for reducing my use of the grid through energy efficiency improvements?  How do they distinguish between people who install rooftop solar panels, and people who replace appliances and light bulbs to cut electricity usage?  And second, what choice do I have when the utility comp…

Keystone XL Clears Environmental Hurdle, but Outcome Far From Certain

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The Department of State today issued the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would deliver up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada to Nebraska, linking to an existing pipeline that would then make the oil accessible to ports in the Gulf of Mexico.  An initial read of the EIS suggests State is laying the groundwork for the Obama administration to approve the pipeline because the document assesses that the pipeline would not have a significant impact on the climate.  Although we have seen this plenty of times before - an EIS downplays the impacts of a project and signals impending approval - the outcome is far from certain in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The President claimed in his June 2013 climate speech that he would evaluate whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline based on its overall contribution to the climate crisis; he should instead ask whether the Federal government should facilitate a 5.4 bill…

One Bird

Washington, D.C. was recently captivated by the arrival of a snowy owl downtown.  The raptors don't normally find their way this far south, but apparently much of the country has seen an influx of these beautiful birds.  The reason for the snowy owl invasion is not quite clear, but some ornithologists hypothesize that a successful breeding year has driven many of the birds further south to establish their own territory.  Regardless of how the bird got to the city, it was welcomed with coverage in the Washington Post under a "breaking" headline.  Social media buzz about the bird's location also brought onlookers to the city block where it rested before a night's hunt.  People took pictures from the sidewalk and from cars, and traveled from other parts of the metro area just to catch a glimpse.

Within five days of all the buzz, the snowy owl was hit by a bus, and taken to veterinarians for treatment.  The Washington Post covered the owl's fate, and reported tha…

State of the Union 2014

In his State of the Union address, the President applauded the success of rooftop solar - noting that every four minutes another home or business goes solar.  He also encouraged Congress to cut subsidies for fossil fuels.  Importantly, he also vowed to protect pristine federal lands for future generations.

If the United States can execute on this vision, we can deliver a promising future that slashes fossil fuel emissions, generates clean energy in a responsible fashion, and preserves our country's natural treasures and open spaces.

However, the Obama administration's track record on conservation and responsible energy development is poor.  The President's all of the above energy strategy has scarred public lands with more natural gas wells and fracking,  allowed drilling in the Arctic, and permitted massive solar projects on some of the most important wildlife corridors in the Mojave Desert.  It is time to abandon this reckless approach and focus on a sustainable future t…