The Wilderness Society Urges Congressional Support Of Sen. Feinstein’s Desert Bill at Senate Committee Hearing

May 19, 2010

Legislation Will Preserve California Desert and Accommodate Renewable Energy

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The Wilderness Society is pressing for Congressional support of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s California Desert Protection Act of 2010 which will be considered at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

The bill will preserve nearly 1.5 million acres of spectacular federal public lands by creating two new National Monuments and expanding Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve. It would establish new wilderness areas in Death Valley and on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service. And the legislation would also revise the existing permitting process for developing wind and solar energy projects on BLM land.

“We have a historic opportunity to protect a magnificent centerpiece of the West – the California desert,” said Dan Smuts, Senior Deputy Regional Director of The Wilderness Society. “Additionally, hundreds of thousands of acres of fragile desert lands that were donated to the U.S. Government for conservation can receive the permanent protection they deserve with this legislation. We urge the Senate committee to move quickly and approve the bill.”

Sen. Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the legislation last December to protect the scenic beauty and heritage of the California desert – a vast and fragile area that is squeezed on both ends by two of the fastest-growing cities in the country: Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The bill will safeguard historic trails and Native American cultural areas. The two new national monuments will be important additions to the National Landscape Conservation System and expansion of the National Parks and Mojave Preserve will continue the tradition of protecting these national treasures.

Sen. Feinstein’s legislation also includes renewable energy provisions that require new solar revenues to be directed to key land acquisition programs. And within an aggressive timetable for permit review, the bill affirms the government’s authority to reject poorly-sited projects.

“The bill can help guide renewable energy projects toward appropriate sites by clarifying sensitive locations in the desert that should be avoided,” said Chase Huntley, TWS policy advisor on energy and climate change. “This certainty is critical for responsible and expeditious development of much-needed solar and wind resources.”

The BLM is currently evaluating the suitability of 351,000 acres in the California desert as potential zones for solar energy development. These solar zones are significantly more than what experts estimate is needed to meet the state renewable energy goals. Also, the BLM is moving ahead with key projects across the west that would produce 5,000 megawatts of new wind, solar, and geothermal power.

No BLM solar energy zones, nor any of the BLM’s fast track renewable energy projects, are precluded by Sen. Feinstein’s Desert Protection Act. Also, no designated energy transmission corridors would be adversely affected.

The California desert is a panorama of diverse and scenic contrasts found nowhere else on Earth. From pastel mountain peaks to hidden springs, from world-famous wildflowers and Joshua tree forests to majestic herds of bighorn sheep, Americans and international visitors have long sought refuge in its beauty.

The desert’s iconic scenery and history are also a boon to the region’s tourism and recreation economy. Visitors spend more than $230 million annually on outdoor recreation in the California desert, according to federal data, and Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks attract nearly three million visitors each year.