Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anniversary of Desert Protection

The Fifteenth Anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act is right around the corner. Signed into law on October 31, 1994, the Act designated 7.8 million acres of land as wilderness, changed areas previously designated as national monuments into Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, and established Mojave National Preserve. This bill was the single largest land protection bill in the history of the lower 48 states.

However, Los Angeles Times reporter Louis Sahagun writes that not all is well:
Across the desert flatlands of southeastern California, dozens of companies have flooded federal offices with applications to place solar mirrors on more than a million acres of public land.

But just as some of those projects appear headed toward fruition, environmental hurdles threaten to jeopardize efforts to further tap the region's renewable energy potential.

The development of solar-power facilities in the desert has been a top priority of the Obama administration as it seeks to ease the nation's dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming. In addition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has urged that the state meet one-third of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020.

Companies are racing to finalize their permits and break ground by the end of next year, which would qualify them to obtain some of the $15 billion in federal stimulus funds designated for renewable energy projects. At stake is the creation of 48,000 jobs and more than 5,300 megawatts of new energy, enough to power almost 1.8 million homes, according to federal land managers.

But the presence of sensitive habitat, rare plants and imperiled creatures such as desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and flat-tailed horned lizards threatens to stall or derail some of the projects closest to securing permits.

"There are significant environmental issues involved in the California gold rush-like scenario unfolding in the desert," said Peter Galvin, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We are not going to just roll over when critical wild lands and last habitats of endangered species are in the mix."
Readers of this blog will already know that the greatest champion of desert preservation is also His Holiness the Dalai Lama's greatest supporter in the U.S. Senate: Dianne Feinstein. I know that her office is already fighting the good fight, but really... somebody needs to throw the brakes on at a much higher level. How about putting these solar farms on the extensive military bases that are already in place, and environmentally monitored?

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