In my 30 years in public service, one of the most challenging and most rewarding activities was participating in the years-long collaborative effort that resulted in the historic Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The State Lands Commission, which I chair, took part in conversations at hundreds of public meetings about how to balance protection of treasured desert landscapes with the development of renewable energy.
Tens of thousands of individuals and organizations came to the table during this multi-year collaborative process, all working tirelessly to achieve consensus and a balanced approach. This diverse range of stakeholders included state and federal agencies like the California Energy Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as countless local governments, renewable energy companies, businesses, conservation groups, and concerned citizens. The collaboration yielded more than 16,000 public comments about how best to manage our fragile California desert, and the values it provides to our economy and quality of life.
Together, we crafted a plan to help meet California’s ambitious renewable energy goals, while still safeguarding precious desert landscapes. But today, this visionary plan is at risk. Despite widespread support across an incredibly broad group of interests, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently announced that the Administration would reopen DRECP to further changes.
This review is ill-advised and unnecessary because the plan does what it was supposed to do. Our Energy Commission has stated that the proposal allocates sufficient land to “support meeting our renewable energy goals.” There is just no new information that justifies amending the approved plan.
The plan designated uses for more than 10 million acres of the desert, mapping out which lands are best suited for renewable energy development and which are more appropriate for conservation. In designing the proposal, stakeholders considered Native American culture, recreation, and historic values as they carefully incorporated activities such as grazing and mining.
The uncertainty caused by potential changes to the plan can adversely affect investment in the state since it will delay the development of much-needed renewable energy facilities. Reopening the DRECP not only wastes time and resources, but it will stall ongoing renewable energy projects and result in significant costs. No one benefits from this. This is the time we need to be moving forward, not revisiting a blueprint that has an unprecedented level of support and agreement.
California is rightly seen as a leader in the quest for a renewable energy future. It’s something we owe to future generations to ensure they have the power to meet their needs. But we also owe our children and grandchildren the ability to explore and enjoy the beauty and wonder of our public lands. Places like Silurian Valley, with its Paiute settlement remnants, desert springs, and bighorn sheep; and Chuckwalla Bench, which boasts the state’s largest cactus, are natural treasures that should remain untouched.
A future that allows for both of these possibilities was the promise made by the DRECP. It’s critical that we uphold that commitment by keeping the DRECP intact, and safeguard the desert’s treasures for all who come after us.
Betty T. Yee is California State Controller and Chair of the State Lands Commission.