Here Comes the Sun, There Goes the Mojave

Over the past few months, this blog has explored some of the differences between the ways smaller, grassroots non-profit conservation organizations go about their campaigns compared with the actions taken (or not taken) by the largest, most well-funded conservation groups in America. We’ve covered this dynamic as it relates to logging, lawsuits and collaboration…but not how it impacts solar energy development on public lands.

This weekend, the LA Times took at how one smaller grassroots group – the Wildlands Conservancy – working their tails off to protect southern California’s Mojave Desert feels abandoned by many of the biggest, and best known, conservation groups in the country.

AMARGOSA VALLEY, Calif. — April Sall gazed out at the Mojave Desert flashing past the car window and unreeled a story of frustration and backroom dealings. Her small California group, the Wildlands Conservancy, wanted to preserve 600,000 acres of the Mojave. The group raised $45 million, bought the land and deeded it to the federal government.

The conservancy intended that the land be protected forever. Instead, 12 years after accepting the largest land gift in American history, the federal government is on the verge of opening 50,000 acres of that bequest to solar development. Even worse, in Sall’s view, the nation’s largest environmental organizations are scarcely voicing opposition. Their silence leaves the conservancy and a smattering of other small environmental organizations nearly alone in opposing energy development across 33,000 square miles of desert land.

“We got dragged into this because the big groups were standing on the sidelines and we were watching this big conservation legacy practically go under a bulldozer,” said Sall, the organization’s conservation director. “We said, ‘We can’t be silent anymore.’ “

Read the entire LA Times article here.

4 thoughts on “Here Comes the Sun, There Goes the Mojave”

  1. “But (Gang Green) are reluctant to stand in the way of renewable energy projects they regard as a vital response to climate change, which they consider the nation’s most serious environmental challenge.”

    Reluctant or just compliant to extortion?

    Appropriate responses to climate change don’t require sweetheart land grabs to swell corporate coffers in pursuit of privatization of public lands.

    After all, there are hundreds of square miles of spent industrial real estate parcels for siting solar farms in proximity to the grid. What Gang Green is compliant around is accepting the conversion of public landscapes which are pristine and incredibly vulnerable desert wilderness harboring endangered species.

    This is but one of many examples of how ‘Gang Green: Neutralized’, have been reduced to shrugging collaborationists for the corporate cause.

  2. David, if that’s true about the industrial real estate parcels, why wouldn’t the companies use those instead of entering the byzantine world of federal decision making? If I were in business, I would stay as far away from those processes as possible.

    Perhaps they don’t have the same solar capacity as the desert SW?

    You also said
    “conversion of public landscapes which are pristine and incredibly vulnerable desert wilderness harboring endangered species.”

    Would you support solar farms in less pristine non-desert public lands?

  3. Hi Sharon, and thanks for this invitation for dialogue.

    Given the the existing vacated, off-shored and decommissioned industrial /mining/ superfund site/agricultural and military real estates already available, along with the already commissioned but entirely usable industrial and residential rooftop real estate we know to already be available, I find it difficult to imagine that acquisition of public lands represents the crux of the problem of the siting of solar farms.

    If somehow, it was revealed that such intuitively comprehensible alternatives were indeed not available, practicable, or feasible (given the urgency of the issue) it would justify condemnation or federal acquisition of the most suitable private lands to enable such installations to go forward — first.

    Of course, this would also have to go forward as a public utility project as we all know what happens when such basic needs as public utilities gets privatized and operated under the primacy of the maximum benefit to shareholder investors — the public-be-damned.

    In short– there is simply no good excuse to condemn public landscapes for private profiteering purposes. If (theoretically) that option did not exist, such selections of public lands would necessarily start from the least ecologically valuable parcels first.

    International experiences with neoliberal versions of market “efficiencies” requiring publicly-funded “incentives” coupled with their (neoliberal) catastrophic track records of mismanagement, and ratepayer rip-offs on extraordinary orders of magnitude, (such as Enron) suggest we (the people) should know better by now. But apparently, and paradoxically, a lot of us still don’t.

  4. David- trying to explore your idea further, it appears “California’s electric utility companies are required to using renewable energy to produce 20 percent of their power by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. ” Given that requirement, for them to sell that energy to their retail customers, it seems like the establishment of large scale projects would be the only way.
    Development of rooftop real estate depends on the inclinations of others and at the end of the day, it seems like the utility itself is responsible for meeting the goal.

    This is 2012 already..and that gives them eight years.

    Seems like it’s not greed so much as the regulations placed on utility companies by people concerned about climate change.
    You call it “private profiteering” but people in California (as well as elsewhere) use energy and someone has to provide it.


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