California’s desert protection plan can be a model
For decades, the California desert has been a battleground between companies seeking to exploit its natural resources and conservation groups determined to protect pristine desert landscapes. Both sides saw it as a zero-sum game – one side had to lose for the other to win – and the two would be embroiled in disputes for decades.
Then, in 2008, federal and state agencies began working on a plan that would balance the many needs of the desert. Over the next eight years, spanning the Bush and Obama presidencies, negotiations took place with conservation groups, energy companies, the Department of Defense, seven counties in California, recreation enthusiasts, partners in the industry and other stakeholders.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan – known as DRECP and finalized in 2016 – is the result of intense negotiations, a plan that has balanced strong protections for the most environmentally sensitive and pristine regions with the development of renewable energies and other commercial and recreational uses of California 10.8 million acres of desert.
The plan showed that renewable energy, conservation and recreation could go hand in hand. It wasn’t necessarily a zero-sum game after all. A testament to the power of good faith negotiation, no lawsuit has been filed to challenge the final DRECP.
In its dying days, the Trump administration attempted to reject this carefully crafted deal and open all desert lands to resource extraction regardless of environmental damage. But the Biden administration recognized the danger of this move and reinstated the DRECP.
Laura Daniel Davis, President Joe Biden’s senior assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Home Office, summed up the situation succinctly: “The Trump administration’s proposal in its dying days to reopen the plan is pointless. and contrary to balanced land management. “
It’s exactly that. The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan was not created on a whim. An agreement after eight years of negotiations between the often at loggerheads was an incredible achievement.
The Biden administration and the State of California understand the need for urgent action. Both have pledged to protect 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030. The federal government has said it will eliminate carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035, while California is committed to achieving 100% clean energy by 2045. The DRECP will play a vital role in achieving these goals.
The public also understands the role they must play. Local communities have made their voices heard in the desert management plan discussions, submitting more than 16,000 public comments. And they have good reason to get involved: The rugged mountains and scenic views of the California desert are home to everything from desert turtles and bighorn sheep to Joshua trees and Native American artifacts. And of course, the desert has great potential as a hotbed of renewable energy and recreation.
It is these interests that have led to a consensus on such a plan of ambition that enables intelligent development of renewable energies, protects virgin lands, preserves historical and cultural artefacts and encourages responsible recreation that stimulates local economies.
Simply put, when government, conservation groups, industry and local communities work together, they can strike the right balance between disparate interests. Such cooperation is even more important today as we make up for lost years in the fight against climate change under the Trump administration.
Now that the Biden administration has asserted its support for the plan, I hope other areas of litigation can use the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan as a model to bring the parties to the table on other contentious issues and come to a conclusion. consensus.
Dianne Feinstein is the Senior Senator from California to the United States.