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Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in support of legislation she has sponsored to balance conservation, recreation and renewable energy development in the Mojave Desert.

The bill, called the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 (S.2921), was introduced by Senator Feinstein last December.

Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s prepared remarks:

“I’d like to thank Chairman Bingaman and Ranking Member Murkowski for scheduling this hearing. I very much appreciate the chance to speak about the ‘California Desert Protection Act of 2010.’

We have the opportunity and the responsibility to preserve some of the most pristine wilderness-quality lands in the desert. That is why I am here today.

The bill I’ve introduced would:

  • Designate two new national monuments:
    • The Mojave Trails National Monument
    • The Sand to Snow National Monument
  • Add adjacent lands to Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and to Mojave National Preserve; 
  • Permanently protect 5 wilderness study areas as designated wilderness, and protect 4 important waterways, such as the Amargosa River and Deep Creek, as Wild and Scenic Rivers;

The bill would also:

  • Facilitate renewable development on suitable lands and improve the permitting process for wind and solar development on public and private lands; and
  • Enhance recreational opportunities, while ensuring that the training needs of the military are met. 

Following the passage of the Desert Protection Act in 1994, it became evident that the southern part of the Mojave Preserve needed protection. There were literally hundreds of inholdings formerly owned by the Catellus Corporation on which private development could happen.

The Wildlands Conservancy was able to raise $40 million from the private sector. Together with $18 million of federal funds, we were able to purchase some 600,000 acres of these former Catellus inholdings.

In February of last year, David Myers of the Wildlands Conservancy came to my office in San Francisco. He brought with him charts, photographs, and renderings of huge energy proposals intended for these very inholdings that had been purchased to remain in conservation.

Up to that point, the largest solar facility in America was approximately 160 megawatts. Yet I learned that some companies were proposing to build solar facilities of sizes that had never before been built.

One company, in particular, proposed to build an 8 square mile solar facility in Sleeping Beauty Valley -- the picture which you see here today – which would have generated 800 megawatts.

I should mention that these large solar facilities do alter the landscape.  The lands are scraped up, a large tower goes up, fences are installed, and other structures are built.  The area is substantially changed.

Last March, I went out to visit the desert. I asked the CEOs of Brightsource, Cogentrix, Southern California Edison, and PG&E to accompany me. We were also joined by the individual company developers from Solel, Florida Power and Light, and Oak Creek Wind.

We spent the day looking at the land, and I think it quickly became apparent that land set aside for conservation had been done so for very good reason.

We saw prime desert tortoise habitat. We drove to the middle of this beautiful valley. We drove down the famous Route 66. We also stopped at the Pisgah lava flow and Amboy Crater.

Over the course of many months, my staff and I met key stakeholders, including federal, state and local officials, environmental groups, renewable energy companies, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, hunters, cattle ranchers, mining interests, the Department of Defense, and California’s public utility companies. 

We worked hard to incorporate the vast majority of their suggestions.  Out of these meetings, this bill emerged.

I believe the bill achieves a careful balance between conserving the desert’s pristine heritage, while creating an efficient process for renewable energy development. We also made sure to incorporate lands designated for recreation and military training uses.

So far, we have assembled a diverse coalition of support.  I’m very proud that the bill has been sponsored by several energy companies, including:

  • Cogentrix Energy
  • Abengoa Solar 
  • Edison International (parent company of Southern California Edison)

Southern California Edison, who will testify today, is one of the largest electricity utilities in the country. It provides power to more than 13 million people across 11 counties in central, coastal and Southern California.  They are the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the entire country, particularly solar.  Their support is crucial.

One thing we learned through this process is that the federal renewable energy permitting system was broken.

Until recently, the BLM process has operated on a first-come, first-serve basis. And it didn’t distinguish between a viable project and a speculative one.

In fact, over the past five years, more than 100 applications have been submitted to build utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands – and not a single project has received a permit.

Under this status quo, no one wins.

We have written this bill to help fix the system and ensure that the development of wind and solar occurs on suitable lands. We’ve done this by:

  • Streamlining the Bureau of Land Management permitting process for renewable energy development. 
  • Seeing that disturbed private lands are not penalized, but can also be used for development. 
  • Improving and expanding the existing transmission infrastructure, which runs right through this area.  
  • Requiring that, in addition to the BLM, the Forest Service and the Department of Defense evaluate their lands and set up renewable energy development on suitable lands.

The BLM has identified 350,000 acres in California as solar energy study areas. California needs roughly 120,000 to 150,000 acres to meet the 33 percent renewable electricity goal by 2020 – that goal is the highest of any state.  We can easily achieve more than twice that amount through the BLM zones.

Not one acre of the proposed monument is within these BLM solar study zones.  The bill also has no negative impact on any of the 9 solar and 3 wind ‘fast track’ BLM proposals. Nor does it impact the 4,803 megawatts of solar energy under review at the California Energy Commission.

Additionally, there are transmission corridors that can be improved to accommodate renewable power.

I’d like to close by making one final recommendation. I would have no objection if the Committee were to add an amendment to establish a new solar energy study area in the Western Mojave. It is believed that there are literally hundreds of thousands of acres directly north of Edwards Air Force Base, which should be seriously evaluated for solar potential.

I have encouraged the BLM to do this administratively, and I would welcome an amendment by the Committee in this bill to achieve that.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak before you today. And I hope that you will join me in supporting the bill, and moving it towards enactment.”


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