Trump admin will cut into plan that balances energy and land protection

Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

UPDATE: As of March 22, over 40,000 people have submitted comments urging the Bureau of Land Management not to revise the current, balanced California desert plan. Thank you for taking action. Your help will be critical once again later this year when the BLM releases its specific proposals which will likely weaken the plan.

The Trump administration is moving to roll back parts of the Bureau of Land Management's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, dealing severe blows to a program that balances land conservation with growing demand for clean energy.

The Department of the Interior is reportedly trying to allow development on huge swaths of land in the California desert, undercutting a key rule from the Obama administration that protected the most sensitive areas--including habitat for animals like desert tortoise and bighorn sheep--while helping to expedite responsible clean energy projects in others.  

Known as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), the program protected 4.2 million acres of wild and vulnerable public land while directing renewable energy development onto “low-conflict” public land that has been pre-screened and deemed suitable for that purpose, including places that are already adjacent to existing infrastructure like transmission lines and roads. 

The Bureau of Land Management will begin seeking formal comments on altering the DRECP by “increasing opportunities for increased renewable energy development, recreational and off-highway vehicle (OHV) access, mining access, and grazing.”  

“Reopening the DRECP is a cynical attempt by the Trump administration to undermine both renewable energy and conservation. If the administration really wanted to support renewable energy, they wouldn’t be proposing a 72 percent cut to clean energy research and a 50 percent cut to the BLM’s renewable energy budget," said Alex Daue, assistant director for energy and climate at The Wilderness Society, in a statement. "This is yet another example of where President Trump and [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke have created chaos for our public lands.  Reopening the carefully crafted, balanced plan will only result in uncertainty, conflict and worse outcomes for renewable energy, recreation and conservation.” 

More about the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

The move is another in the Trump administration's long succession of actions intended to dismantle environmental rules and common-sense restrictions on energy and other development.  

Renewable energy direly needed, but finding the right places is crucial

It is crucial that the U.S. derive more of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar, but such projects are not appropriate everywhere. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan ensured that renewable energy development avoids California’s desert treasures. When we guide projects to more suitable areas, like rooftops, already-degraded lands or pre-screened zones, we are able to avoid conflict with wildlife and keep outdoor recreation spots clear of obstruction. 

That the Trump administration should suddenly pretend to ramp up renewable energy opportunities on previously protected land is emblematic of the small-minded, vindictive approach it has helped bring to the fore in Washington DC. As a candidate, Trump called renewable energy "just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves," and he has dedicated his administration to promoting energy sources like oil, gas and coal instead. By now selectively and superficially bolstering the cause of renewable energy in such a way that it runs roughshod over careful plans to protect wildlife habitat and other lands, the regime is showing that its top priority remains sticking it to the planet and the wild places that all Americans share. 

In reality, Trump and his crew don’t care about producing more renewable energy; they are trying to disrupt the process of transitioning to a more climate-conscious energy mix, and get in a dig at public lands at the process.

Stay tuned for more on this developing story.