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Nevada's Washington Watch, January 2012
A Nevada Environmental Wish List for 2012
By Rob Mrowka
In a state where almost 85% of the land is under federal management, there is little shortage of environmental issues with a federal connection.
Last but certainly not least, Congress could give Nevada its first national monument – the Tule Springs Fossil-beds National Monument in the upper Las Vegas Wash! This area managed currently by the Bureau of Land Management, is world renown for its ice-aged fossils spanning over a 200,000 year period, and is also home to three rare species of plants and the threatened desert tortoise. It was removed from protected status and placed within the area for disposal and privatization under a 2002 Clark County lands act. Only a concerted and long term effort by concerned citizens has prevented it from being sold off and destroyed. There is widespread support for the monument managed by the National Park Service - the Cities of North Las Vegas, Las Vegas and the Clark County Commission have all issued decrees lauding it and the economic benefits it would bring to the community. It is only held up because Nevada Energy is insisting that the legislation including a provision for a new utility line stretching across and marring the area. This line would primarily be used for exporting energy to California and stakeholder profits. The Nevada Public Utility Commission has already told NV Energy no, and Governor Sandoval vetoed last minute legislation enabling it earlier this year. The Congressional delegation should echo the PUC and governor and introduce and pass legislation without a utility corridor provision.
Closing down Nevada Energy’s Reid Gardner coal-fired plant in Moapa comes to mind. It has been poisoning and sickening its Moapa band of Paiute neighbors and southern Nevada and Utah for 40 years through emissions and coal ash pollution. In 2008, Nevada Energy was ordered to install more than $85 million in retrofits to cut down on particulate pollution coming out of the smoke stacks. However, despite these controls, NV Energy continues to emit dangerous levels of pollution from the coal boilers. In the latest available air monitoring data - April through June 2011 - Reid Gardner exceeded federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and other non-regulated pollutants that are well documented to harm human health. Toxic particulate pollution continues to blow off of the coal ash landfill adjacent to the plant, spreading deadly heavy metals such as chromium and arsenic.
Or how about the proposed Southern Nevada Water Authority’s massive and potentially catastrophic proposal to siphon off up to 57 billion gallons of ground water a year from aquifers left by the last ice ages, resulting in the ruination of rural communities, ranchers, American Indian Tribes and their traditional lands and the natural heritage so loved by Nevadans. The earth’s surface would drop one-foot or more over an area of 3,000 square miles. This subsidence, besides threatening local water supplies and causing extensive infrastructure damage, will dry up over 192,000 acres of iconic Great Basin shrubland, over 8,000 acres of wetlands, and adversely impact over 310 springs and 125 miles of perennial streams. As a result of the loss of native vegetation and aquatic flows, hundreds of native species of plants and animals, such as mule deer, elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, songbirds and rare desert fish and springsnails will be faced with extirpation or even in some cases extinction. The cost to southern Nevadans is a price tag that will far exceed $15.5 billion, and delay a much needed discussion on how to make the area a sustainable, viable and livable community in the driest desert in North America. The Department of Interior must stand up to pressures and say “no” to this destructive and unneeded project.
Sensible and forward-looking renewable energy policy and development is a “big-ticket” item for Nevada. Our state is richly blessed with abundant solar radiation, wind and geothermal resources. These resources if placed and developed right from the start have the potential to create green energy jobs and assist the world in reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases in addressing global climate change impacts. If done wrong, they have the potential to create only fleeting short-term jobs, and become zones of industrial blight that wreck havoc on the natural splendor that is Nevada. The Department of Interior is doing a credible job of trying to get industrial solar facilities properly sited through its programmatic analysis for solar development and transmission in the western states, including Nevada. Five solar energy zones are being proposed and they generally have the support of the environmental community in the state. The same reasoned approach cannot be said for wind energy. Haphazard, speculative applications are a huge threat to Nevada’s scenic and wildlife resources. Ill-conceived wind energy projects such as the Wilson Creek project in Lincoln County or the Spring Valley project in White Pine County clearly demonstrate the need for the federal land managing agencies to replicate the programmatic planning approach for wind resources. However, the real pay dirt for Nevada lies in breaking down the resistance and barriers to distributive energy systems – roof-top solar, small wind and individual heat-pump projects. Here lies the massive potential for lasting and long term jobs and protecting rather than developing wild lands. In 2010, Germany with its far from favorable climate had more than twice the entire existing solar capacity in the entire United States. Federal agencies working with state and local entities should immediately place a priority on developing distributive energy systems, including incentives such as feed-in tariffs, and “busting” utility monopolies while making changes to the antiquated power regulatory systems now in place.
The original article appeared here.
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