Biden BLM Undoes Trump Team’s Suspension Of Desert Energy Conservation Plan

The Department of the Interior as it has been reconstituted with the Joseph Biden Administration appointees, announced earlier this month that it is reversing the lame duck Trump Administration’s dismantling of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, known by its acronym DRECP, is a collaborative effort between the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and California Energy Commission to streamline the permitting process for renewable energy development while striking what those participating in the plan’s drafting say is a balance that will conserve and protect unique and endangered species, their habitat and overarching desert ecosystems while providing citizens access to some public desert lands for recreational purposes.
Stating that it was not sensible to require that every renewable energy project on public lands in California require a resource plan amendment to proceed and decrying that such regulations prevented all but 4 percent of the 10.8 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management from being included in the “focus areas” eligible for renewable energy development, the Trump administration said it was instituting changes to the DRECP that would free up more than 800,000 acres for renewable energy development and allow more off-highway vehicle recreation. The Trump Administration said this would help “meet California’s renewable energy mandates.”
Those who had participated in the drafting of the DRECP, including a range of environmental groups and the California Energy Commission, denounced the move as a counterproductive and destructive setback.
The Department of the Interior in a Federal Register Notice revoked the Bureau of Land Management’s comment period on the Trump administration’s draft environmental impact statement to amend the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan .
Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity commended the Biden Administration for its decision to keep the DRECP intact.
“Five days before Joseph Biden was sworn in, the Trump Administration took action that stripped a lot of the conservation pieces out of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan ,” Anderson said. I was very concerned about that. Last week the Biden Administration withdrew that, so it appears they have are satisfied with the DREP as it is drafted. Hopefully, what they do from here on out and what will be implemented will be consistent with that. Right now, there are only two new renewable energy projects being proposed in the desert that are going to through the environmental examination process. Those will be in the development focus areas that have the least number of biological conflict areas in the desert. It appears the new administration is going to give the plan a chance to work.”
Anderson said the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, by specifying a focus area where renewable energy projects are to be located, will “ensure renewable energy project construction occurs in places that have the least amount of impact on sensitive habitats.”
She said it is a good sign that the Biden Administration stepped in to prevent the junking of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan .
“The Trump Administration basically rolled back virtually all of the environmental protections we rely upon for human health and safety as well as for the protection of wildlife,” she said.
In contrasting the Biden Administration to the Trump Administration with regard to the development of the desert and the mining of its resources, Anderson said the current “I think they are definitely committed to doing more publicly available public review on environmental issues.”
Nevertheless, Anderson said the Biden Administrations zeal to pursue renewable energy options could mean it will not be sufficiently diligent in or committed to pursuing environmental protection both generally and in regard to the ecology of California’s Desert.
“I think time will tell,” she said. “I wish I had a crystal ball. They are very much in favor of renewable energy and to make a transition off of fossil fuels.”
Anderson expounded on the tension in the environmental community between those who are aggressively in favor solar power development and those who want strong regulations preventing the development of huge solar fields anywhere in the desert.”
“The environmentalist spectrum is wide,” she said. “For sure there are three or four environmental groups actively opposing renewable energy projects on private desert lands of all kinds. I can only speak for my organization. One of our concerns is about climate change. We are seeing the effects as we speak so there is a need for the transitioning to renewable energy. The way our system currently exists, the development of large scale solar plants is under the control of private companies. They have stockholders, and capitalism is all about making money. So it is easier for them to only have to deal with one entity.”
The regulatory agencies overseeing power generation do not have the preservation of threatened species as a priority, she said. “That is the dynamic that is occureing in the California Desert,” she said.
At the same time, large utility companies want to put in fields of solar arrays on property that exists as crucial habitat for endangered species.
“The California desert is a world class solar radiation zone,” she said. “Quite literally, there is no other place that has such a good location that also happens to be next to one the biggest electrical use load centers on the planet, the Southern California area. For solar energy in particular, it is a desirable place to locate solar fields.”
Her group and other environmentalists have invested considerable time and effort in finding a means to effectuate species protection, while allowing the construction of large-scale solar array fields to take place. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan was the end product of that labor, she said. “We have made improvements in how renewable energy projects are permitted and where they are located. In trying to implement the provisions of the DERCP, we are manageing to put them where they have the least impact on critical habitat. We hope to balance the need for electricity and work within the system we are bounded by and offset the worst climate change challenges we face. We hope to stem the tide of overheating our planet.”
Asked how she countered the argument that the worldwide, national and state dependence on fossil fuels as a primary energy source represents a greater environmental threat than do the downsides of placing massive scale solar power generating plants and windmills into the desert, Anderson said, “I think we need to find a balance.”
She said she understood there should be a commitment to using solar power where it can do the most good.
“At the same time we are trying to transition to renewable energy we have a worldwide species extinction process that is ongoing in the face of global warming,” she said. “Protecting these species is so very important, and that means preserving their habitat. But they are being threatened by global warming. So, we don’t want to have them go to extinct from climate change. That calls for a nuanced solution, but that is the way to go forward. If it was up to me, the emphasis would be on putting our renewable options in place on our residential rooftops, on commercial buildings, where people actually live and work. That would not destroy the habitat for species that are moving toward extinction. That is the most effective way to reach the goals. Southern California Edison and PG&E are fighting that tooth and nail, as is every other corporate utility owner, because that is not their business mode.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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