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Tortoise Toll Mounts at Nevada Solar Project

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First Solar's Silver State South project has displaced over 152 desert tortoises, according to data obtained by Basin and Range Watch, and this toll is expected to rise since construction crews have not yet finished bulldozing the threatened animal's habitat.  The Silver State South solar project is being built just east of Primm, Nevada on 3.7 square miles of intact Mojave Desert habitat that biologists have determined to be a key corridor for the desert tortoise - facilitating genetic flow for the species that is important for its survival in the face of many anthropogenic threats, including climate change.

Of the 152 tortoises displaced, 63 are adult and 89 are juvenile, indicating that First Solar chose a bad location for its solar project.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, the project is expected to displace as many as 115 adult desert tortoises, and the Department of Interior will likely have to halt construction and re-evaluate impacts…

Overriding Considerations and the War on Carbon

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The New York Times recently published an Op-Ed by author Rebecca Solnit questioning our concern for the fate of wildlife as we rapidly expand renewable energy generation.  Ms. Solnit's point seems to be that the climate catastrophe poses far too great of a threat to be concerned for the death of wildlife at solar and wind energy projects.  I think it is very timely that her op-ed was published at the same time that our country is left trying to explain why the torture of a few was necessary for the defense of many.  When we are left questioning why we should compromise on our values in the pursuit of victory in war. 

I would like to argue that Ms. Solnit is missing the point, and that every life has value, including every single bird and insect burned at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project, or any burrowing owl that loses its habitat to the effects of climate change.   But she raises a compelling point - climate will bring destruction on a mass scale, and terrorize ec…

Conservation Legislation Loaded with Poison Pills

Congress may grant public lands some new conservation designations before the end of the year, but at a substantial cost.   The House of Representatives and Senate have agreed on draft legislation that will pair conservation proposals with land transfers and special allowances for the mining, timber, grazing and energy interests.  The Senate is expected to pass the bill, which also includes the long-sought Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument north of Las Vegas.  In the last days of a Democrat-controlled Senate, it is a dismal sign of the times to come if even "bi-partisan" conservation deals are so heavily laden with gifts to industry.

Nevada's New Monument

If the legislation passes the Senate - a move expected within the next week - it would establish the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on over 22,000 acres just north of Las Vegas.  However, the monument would come with its own dose of destructive compromises.  The bill directs the National Park Service…

Close the Coolwater Natural Gas Plant

San Bernardino County's ozone levels are ridiculous.  According to the Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino can reach ozone levels of 107 parts per billion (ppb), which is bad for our health and the environment.  The current standard for ozone levels is 75 ppb, set by the Bush administration, but even this is seen as too high.  The Obama administration is proposing to adjust the standard down to 65 - 70 ppb.  Whether we stick with the unhealthy standard of 75 ppb, or go lower, San Bernardino Count has clearly been negligent in addressing a serious health problem, and should be conisdering bold steps to clean up its act.  One obvious step would be to shut down the Coolwater natural gas plant just east of Barstow in the heart of San Bernardino County. 

This old natural gas facility is reaching the end of its life, and contributes to congestion on power lines that inhibits the addition of renewable energy.  Southern California Edison (SCE) - the local utility company that also buys powe…

Silurian Valley Spared by BLM

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If you have ever been to the Silurian Valley, you know it is one of those grand places that inspires and beckons you to pull over, get out of your car, and hike.  After driving on Interstate 15 from Barstow, the Silurian Valley is a strong dose of tranquility, providing relief from the traffic, billboards and franchise restaurants of our Anthropocentric world and what Aldo Leopold called the "epidemic of geometry."  As you drive up the two-lane Death Valley Road,  you leave behind the sight of the small highway outpost of Baker and you are swallowed by the immensity of the Silurian Valley. It is just you and the narrow road dividing thousands of acres of wilderness on either side.  This week, Jim Kenna, the State Director for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California, spared this place for future generations to experience when he rejected plans by Spain-based Iberdrola to build the Aurora Solar project.

Kenna's decision represents a significant milestone u…

Investigation Sheds Light on Industry Influence over Desert Policy

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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…

Celebrating the Desert Protection Act

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Senator Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act (CDPA) was signed into law 20 years ago on October 31, 1994, establishing new protections for vast stretches of the desert.  The CDPA established 69 new Wilderness areas,  created the Mojave National Preserve, converted Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments into National Parks, and added acreage to both parks.

Watching the sun set in a remote corner of the Mojave forges a connection between me and generations past, and it would be nice to know that future generations will share the same natural heritage.  Witnessing mountain shadows gently stretch across miles of open desert, hearing coyotes howl at twilight as bats flutter by, and being immersed in an infinite blanket of stars overhead are some of the treasured experiences you can have in the desert. 

These experiences are increasingly threatened, however, as cities sprawl outward, new major highways threaten to slice across the landscape, and transmission li…