One of the lessons I learned teaching peacekeeping in foreign lands is that dialogue is essential. Where there is negotiation and discussion, there is potential for diplomacy and problem-solving.
Here in our desert, I saw this same spirit of give-and-take materialize into a peaceful solution in the development of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).
The DRECP is an innovative plan that carefully balances environmental conservation and renewable energy development, as well as recreational opportunities in this incredible landscape.
The plan took eight years of collaboration among multiple agencies, using public input and scientific studies to guide its development. I worked on this plan, and saw firsthand how it was carefully designed to meet a variety of needs through thoughtful deliberation and compromise. It ensures that the interests of energy developers, conservationists, and recreational enthusiasts are carefully delineated.
With the above in mind, it is disconcerting that the Department of the Interior has ordered a review of the plan. They have only provided 45 days for the public to submit comments, after which they may unravel the plan. Such action in that short a time could undermine the eight years of hard work and deliberation it took to build the plan, the local priorities it represents, and the will of Californians.
Changes to the plan would likely affect land use designations. That means that energy developers and environmental conservationists may have renewed disagreements over potential development sites. This could make it harder and more expensive for developers, and create uncertainty for development projects that are already in the works. It could put certain ecological areas at risk, and possibly destroy certain recreational opportunities in the desert. In other words, it is bad for developers, for conservationists, and for those who enjoy the outdoors — whether hiking and climbing, hunting, recreational vehicles, or otherwise.
The Department of the Interior said this review would help the Federal government find ways to remove “potential burdens on domestic renewable energy production in California.” But the irony is that the state of California supports DRECP. The plan provides more than enough acreage to meet California’s project energy needs through 2040 — a fact that was carefully studied at length for years as countless stakeholders built up this plan.
Periodic reviews of plans should be conducted, usually after 5 to 10 years or more, depending on the circumstances. The bottom line is that I see no substantive reason for this plan to be changed now, nor in the foreseeable future as current conditions exist.
Everyone who cares about public lands should be concerned by this disconcerting development. I encourage engaged citizens to submit comments during this public comment period, by writing to: BLM-California State Director, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825 or electronically to BLM_CA_DRECP@blm.gov.
If you love our desert, please join me and raise your voice during this public comment period. The DRECP should remain in its current configuration if we want to protect as well as responsibly develop these precious lands for future generations to enjoy and utilize.
Val Simon is an environmental professional living in the Morongo Basin. Before retiring from civil service, she was chief of the Resources Management office and Salton Sea Program Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region. She served in the Marine Corps reserve at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms while also an Environmental Protection Specialist, retiring from the Marine Corps after a combat tour in Iraq. She has taught peace-keeping operations in Mali, Senegal and Malawi, and anthropology at the Copper Mountain College as an adjunct professor.
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