TERRY WEINER is the Conservation Coordinator of the Desert Protective Council. DPC is one of a relative handful of environmental groups that has openly expresed concerns and frustration with the ongoing massive development of alternative energy projects that being planned and built across the American West. THE ZEPHYR talked to Terry about those concerns…
Are the big green groups staying away from this battle about “alternative energy?”
The national so-called environmental organizations are not staying out of it: indeed a couple of them (NRDC and The Wilderness Society especially) are engaging in the planning process by sitting at the table and collaborating with the Department of Interior and the solar and wind developers to help them site projects on lands they refer to as “low conflict zones”. Instead of promoting and lobbying for policy changes to incentivize rooftop solar and distributed generation in the built environment, they are speaking in support of these remote large-scale solar and wind projects on public land; they are in some cases colluding in their development.
What’s their motive?
They seem to continue to believe that we can stop climate change and that industrial renewable energy projects are the way to do it. The national organizations have confused the public and we have to spend a lot of time trying to explain to the public that many smaller grassroots organizations do not agree with them and that we support renewable energy development close to the cities that need the energy. They seem to ignore the EPA’s recommendations in their “Repowering America’s Lands” initiative: in their comments on the BLM’s Solar Programmatic EIS, the EPA stated that if, after the nation does all it can to develop renewable energy projects in the built environment, then the nation could look to development on the 12 million acres of brown fields, abandoned mines and contaminated ag lands around the country before looking to our public lands for industrial energy.
So, in other words, after we’ve tried to create roof-top solar and sort of de-centrailize the alternative energy business, then and only then would we consider these kinds of projects now being proposed and built?
The big enviro groups, including the Sierra Club are particularly ignorant or uncaring about the hideous destruction of 10s of thousands of acres with wind turbine projects. NRDC, TWS, the Sierra Club are based in D.C. and they do not know the desert. They determine their support for various projects from afar. I have many photos of the Ocotillo Area that I have taken for the past three years which document the beauty of the place and the utter destruction of habitat to 20,000 acres from the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility. It is so sad. Not only will these turbines kill birds and bats, but the impacts of wind turbines on non-volent species have not been studied.
It is such a shame that the Department of Interior and the State of California, with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) have put these projects on fast-track status when we have inadequate information on the cumulative impacts of scraping and fragmenting such large expanses of the southwest deserts.
Here is a short excerpt from a report in 2012 from the Independent Science Advisors to the DRECP process:
“Desert species and ecological communities are already severely stressed by human changes to the landscape, including urbanization, roads, transmission lines, invasive species, and disturbances by recreational, military, mining, and other activities. Additional stress from large-scale energy developments, in concert with a changing climate, portends further ecological degradation and the potential for species extinctions…We…strongly advocate using “no regrets” strategies in the near term—such as siting developments in already disturbed areas—as more refined analyses become available to guide more difficult decisions.”…In most cases, translocations and transplantations have been used as “feel good” actions that are generally not effective at sustaining populations. Moreover, the practice has the potential to do more harm than good to populations of rare species by increasing mortality rates and decreasing reproductive rates and genetic diversity.’[2
What a shame to destroy or imperil many species, 10% of which have not even been discovered yet. There is so much more I would like to say. I’d like to include a link to the article on Ocotillo and the Ocotillo Wind Project that I wrote for the September issue of the Sierra Club CA/Nevada Desert Committee ‘Desert Report’ .
It looks to me like you and a handful of small grassroots groups are the ONLY opposition.
We grassroots activists have been alternately puzzled and infuriated by the willingness of the national environmental organizations to go along with the program as laid out by the powers-that-be instead of throwing their weight behind the principles of 1- conservation of energy; 2- retro-fitting our homes and businesses to be much more energy efficient and 3- rooftop solar and distributed generation and local solar development on abandoned industrial lands next to cities.
A bit more history: Three years ago when it was clear that the Obama Administration and the DOI were planning to move ahead with fast-tracking energy development on public lands, I participated in a focus group involving Defenders, TWS, the Sierra Club and NRDC, the purpose of which was to organize a response to this juggernaut. I was the only one on the conference calls who wanted to come out in straight opposition to the administration’s plan to direct the public lands managers to come up with a plan to accommodate large-scale solar and wind development.
The Defenders’ representative declared that since this juggernaut was happening and could not be stopped, the most effective action environmental groups could take was to become involved in the process in order to work with the BLM and solar developers to steer solar development to the least sensitive lands. And of course, there the slippery slope begins: who is qualified to play god and say which lands are worthy of being saved and which can be trashed?
Although I had trouble convincing my DPC Board that it was in the best interest of the DPC to NOT become “players” and get a “seat at the table” with the large national groups; eventually they relented and agreed that validating the process of scraping our deserts for remote solar and wind projects was not in the best interest of the desert.
DPC had also around that time helped fund a report by local engineer Bill Powers that documented how San Diego, for example, by employing principles of conservation, efficiency, rooftop and local generation, could become energy self-sufficient by 2020!
In March of 2010, Janine Blaeloch, Founder and Director of Western Lands Project contacted me about this broad plan to privatize our public lands and said she wanted to help fight this. She said this looked like the biggest public land grab for private profit she had ever seen. I know some activists who were already researching rooftop solar and already aware of this new potentially worst threat ever to our deserts and I talked to them about forming a coalition to fight this public lands grab for corporate energy development and Janine and I and five others of us created Solar Done Right.
Most of the founders of the large environmental organizations, certainly John Muir, would be appalled at the way their organizations have lost the courage to fight for protection of our public lands heritage and have chosen to cooperate in the fragmentation and destruction of our desert ecosystems while trying to make themselves believe that this is the best outcome they can hope for. It would have been so powerful if all of the national organizations joined with communities and grassroots groups to oppose this process and lobby hard for federal and state policies to make rooftop solar affordable and required on all new construction. Some of the big enviro groups got money from climate change organizations and foundations which required them to sit at the table with the solar developers and the government. One of the benefits of being small with little overhead is that for example, DPC and Basin and Range Watch are beholden to no one.
Where do you see this going? Is there any hope that the national environmental groups will see the light and join you in opposing these kinds of industrial ‘green” projects? And do you think the public will catch on to this? I think somebody called it the greatest land grab in history.
The challenge for those of us who love and know the desert , along with our desert botanists, desert ecologists and desert soil scientists, is to figure out how to launch an educational campaign about the critical importance of our desert ecosystems
We need to bring our policy makers and representatives of the D.C. environmental organizations out to our deserts and show them the beauty and diversity of plant and animal life and explain how scraping the deserts’ fragile and ancient crypto-biotic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Big wind projects in particular require the building of back-up natural gas or other energy generation. We need an analysis of how much carbon and other greenhouse gases are spewed in the building of these remote projects.
Pertaining to your final sentence below, when Janine Blaeloch of Western Lands Project in Seattle called me in early 2010 to ask how her organization could help the Desert Protective Council and others to fight the oncoming juggernaut of large-scale energy projects on public lands, she reminded me of Western Lands Project’s mission to “keep public lands public” and told me that the current trend is the “biggest public lands giveaway for corporate profit” that she had ever seen.
My other thoughts on this are rather bleak Jim because until we Americans are willing to assume personal responsibility for radically reducing our energy consumption through conservation and requiring our homes and businesses to be energy efficient and until we make our cities more walkable and bike-able, and until we stop trying to foist our extravagant lifestyle on the rest of the world, I don’t see any hope of even putting on the brakes of the climate crisis. I and DPC in coalition with other organizations will do what we can to fight these projects, one by one but other than with litigation, I don’t see us slowing this down much. But given that humans are predisposed to not changing comfortable habits until forced, what I see is a continuation of our ‘too little too late’ policies toward protecting our natural and Native American cultural heritage.
DPC’s web site is: http://dpcinc.org/
They can also be found on facebook