On February 12, 2016 the Obama Administration demonstrated great leadership and foresight with its designation of three new National Monuments in the California desert (Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, Castle Peaks). A mere eight weeks later, on April 5, 2016 – this same Administration lost its mind and approved a hotly-contested solar project on previously undeveloped California desert wildlands.
The Soda Mountain Solar Project has been contested from the get-go: By scientists, biologists, current and former National Park Superintendents, public stakeholders, and numerous other organizations and individuals who provided a plethora of logical and scientific reasons (via written comment submissions and during public meetings) why this project should not move forward at this location. First and foremost: the proposed project boundary is a mere 1/3 mile from the boundary of the Mojave National Preserve. Allow me to say it again just in case you didn’t catch it: Our federal government approved an industrial project a mere one-third of a mile from one of our third-largest National Park unit. Among numerous other significant impacts, this project would severely threaten the lives and migration patterns of bighorn sheep who reside and move through the Soda Mountains.
Please have a look at the photo heading this post. Proponents of this project claim that they have mitigated visual impacts of the project from within the Mojave National Preserve by removing from development lands north of Interstate 15. My photograph illustrates either the Bureau of Land Management‘s (BLM) disingenuousness or that it knows much less about the land we have entrusted it to manage than does this landscape photographer. That’s a two way view: the Kelso Dunes, Providence Mountains, and Granite Mountains of the Mojave National Preserve can all be seen in the background. If one places themselves in these locations inside the Preserve post-development, solar panels will fill in the background. Are these the views we want and expect from inside a unit of our National Park system?
During public and private meetings over the last few years, Bechtel was urged to take this project elsewhere where it could not destroy previously undeveloped desert and seriously threaten wildlife. Guess which finger they held up in reply?
During public and private meetings over the last few years, the BLM and Department of Interior were asked to not permit this project to move forward where it would destroy previously undeveloped desert and seriously threaten wildlife – there are better and more sensible options. Guess which finger they held up in reply?
This solar proposal has no power purchase agreement and the City of Los Angeles has stated that they will not purchase power from this project due to its environmental impacts.As Chris Clarke points out in this KCET article, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and San Bernardino County are doing a better job at protecting the California desert than the Bureau of Land Management (an agency entrusted by the public to protect our public lands in the public interest. Note public interest, not corporate).
The Center for Biological Diversity suggests that “a recent report identifies nearly 1.5 million rooftops throughout Los Angeles County that could be used as solar power generators that would create 19,000 megawatts from rooftop solar. The total rooftop solar potential for the city of Los Angeles is more than 5,500 megawatts (more than 15 times what the Soda Mountain solar project would generate), which could power the city on most days since the highest-ever peak in Los Angeles was 6,177 megawatts.”
Dear President Obama: Why would you protect but then sign-off on the destruction of my beautiful Mojave Desert in the span of only eight weeks? Visitors come from around the world to tour and enjoy these vast and unspoiled landscapes.
Given that this project ignores and defies directives set forth in the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (six years in planning) and given the massive science against and opposition to this project, I am left wondering who took the bribe?
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
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Stay tuned for forthcoming protests and lawsuits.
You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For information and photographs, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.