For Immediate Release, September 18, 2009
Contact: Peter Galvin, (707) 986-2600
Center Lauds Cancellation of Development in Proposed National Monument
Center Calls for Relocation of Other Proposed Development Projects in Area, Swift Enactment of Essential Monument
LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity applauded the announcement made yesterday by proponents of a controversial solar energy project that they are canceling a proposed facility that would destroy important habitat for endangered species in the California desert. BrightSource Energy, Inc. stated that it has withdrawn plans for a 5,000 acre solar thermal facility to be located in the Broadwell Valley in the Mojave Desert.
The proposed project site was located in a remote wildland area currently being planned for inclusion in a new national monument proposed by California senator Dianne Feinstein. The new monument would connect Joshua Tree National Park with the Mojave National Preserve and would protect some of the most pristine, ecologically important and beautiful desert lands in the world.
Peter Galvin, co-founder and conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated, “We are tremendously pleased that this poorly-sited project has been withdrawn.” Galvin added, “Broadwell Valley and similar lands should be recognized as the national treasures that they are and permanently protected as a national monument.”
A rapid transition to renewable energy is essential if we are to address global warming; however, we need not destroy pristine public lands and endangered species habitat to do so. Hundreds of thousands of acres of already-degraded lands that are better suited for energy development already exist outside the proposed monument.
To better address the issue of where to put solar energy projects on public lands in the western U.S., the Department of the Interior has begun a programmatic environmental review process with the aim of designating solar energy zones where solar facilities could be clustered and built with fewer environmental impacts. Interior’s initial proposal identifies over 600,000 acres in six states where solar projects might be appropriate. The Center for Biological Diversity has also prepared a map and analysis of areas potentially suitable for solar energy siting, and identified 200,000 acres of degraded private and public lands in the California desert where such projects could occur with minimal environmental impact.
One of the most sensitive, currently unprotected areas of the California desert is the swath of land between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. This corridor provides both habitat and connectivity for a suite of desert species found in the park and the preserve, including desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep. The area also contains cultural and historic sites including the “Mother Road” -- the original Route 66. This location is outside both the Department of the Interior’s and the Center’s proposed solar zones, but nevertheless, several energy companies are still seeking to build large projects in the heart of the region.
This highly sensitive area is also the location of the largest non-profit land acquisition donation in U.S. history. A decade ago, The Wildlands Conservancy spent tens of millions of dollars to acquire more than 500,000 acres of lands in the California desert, which it then donated to the Department of the Interior. At the time, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and the BLM director all pledged that the land would be conserved. Senator Feinstein’s proposed monument would ratify theses promises and protect these important lands in perpetuity.
“The cancellation of BrightSource’s Broadwell Valley project is an important step towards protecting an essential part of California and the nation’s natural heritage. Other companies proposing similar projects in the area need to do the same,” added Galvin. “The passage of Senator Feinstein’s monument bill will ensure that additional threats to these lands are addressed.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric CO2 levels are reduced to below 350 ppm, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. If greenhouse gas emissions are not immediately reduced, the current atmospheric CO2 level of almost 390 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, disruptive global weather and ecosystem changes, and widespread human suffering. Energy conservation and a rapid transition to renewable energy are necessary to bring about the required CO2 reductions, but important habitats and wild areas should not be sacrificed to meet these targets.