The Trump administration has said it will review federal protections for large areas of the southern California desert, in an effort to make more land available for energy development. The announcement is similar to the statements that preceded the administration’s decision to reduce protections on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, the move would help to meet the goals of Trump’s executive order last year seeking to increase energy development on public land. The Huffington Post reported on the announcement earlier this week.
Under the Obama-era Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, millions of acres of desert were designated off-limits for solar and wind energy projects. The plan, which covered a total of 10.8 million acres, permanently protected 3.9 million acres, and designated an additional 1.4 million as being of critical environmental concern. The desert in southern California is among America’s largest intact ecosystems.
“We need to reduce burdens on all domestic energy development, including solar, wind and other renewables,” said Interior Department deputy assistant secretary Katherine MacGregor.
The state’s own ambitious clean energy targets have been cited as the reason for the move. State law says that half of California’s electricity needs to be generated from renewable sources by 2030.
However, in addition to renewable energy development, the administration is seeking public comments about using the land for mining, grazing, and off-road vehicle use, and environmental advocates are skeptical that renewable energy would be a priority, given the administration’s track record on the issue. Wilderness Society spokesperson Alex Daue called the review “cynical attempt by the Trump administration to undermine both renewable energy and conservation.”
State officials have already come out strongly against the administration taking aim at the protections. Senator Dianne Feinstein said “Scrapping the plan now is a complete waste of time and money, and I oppose this.”
“It’s a balanced plan that resulted from years of careful analysis and wide-ranging community engagement. I question the logic of reopening this carefully crafted compromise that was so recently settled.”
The California Energy Commission, which was involved in developing the original plan, emphasized that the state would be able to meet its clean energy goals without revoking protections on these areas.
However, some local governments and energy companies have opposed the plan, saying it is excessively limiting to development efforts.