(SF Chronicle Editorial)
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February 3, 2018
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is a joint venture between California and the federal government to support renewable energy development while simultaneously protecting millions of acres of our state’s ecologically fragile desert.
The plan, which covers 22.5 million acres in seven California counties, required years of scientific work and incorporated the feedback of everyone from local environmental groups to the U.S. military to Indian tribes.
Now the Trump administration has threatened to scrap the plan — for no good reason.
On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Land Management announced it is considering amending the conservation plan “to seek greater opportunities for renewable energy generation.”
In its notice, the bureau said it was specifically responding to President Trump’s order “to review regulations that unnecessarily impede energy development.” It’s opened a new 45-day public comment period on the plan (comments can be emailed to the bureau’s California director at firstname.lastname@example.org).
The bureau’s announcement was met with instant opposition all over the state.
“It’s a balanced plan that resulted from years of careful analysis and wide-ranging community engagement,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Scrapping the plan now is a complete waste of time and money, and I oppose this.”
Frazier Haney, director of land conservation for the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said in a statement that the bureau’s announcement “could create chaos,” and added that “Anyone who cares about public lands should be concerned about it.”
At best, the Trump administration’s decision is ill-conceived.
At worst, it’s an arrogant dismissal of the (many) institutions and individuals who poured their time, energy and effort into creating a balanced and sensible plan that offered opportunities for industry without damaging the environment that Californians love.
While there have been a few complaints about the burdens of the conservation plan, the vast majority of stakeholders have enthusiastically embraced it.
Certainly the Trump administration can’t complain about the process for developing the plan — it was hailed, rightly, as a breakthrough for state and federal collaboration in land-use planning.
As for the potential of renewable energy development, the conservation plan designates 600 square miles of desert for it, with the possibility of 842,000 additional acres if necessary.
There’s little evidence that California needs to currently designate more public lands for this purpose, which has led to fears that the Trump administration is eager to open this fragile area to nonrenewable energy development, too. The best way to put these concerns to rest would be for the federal bureau to leave this hard-won conservation plan alone.