Press Releases

Senator Feinstein Introduces Legislation to Balance Conservation, Recreation and Renewable Energy Development in the Mojave Desert

-Measure would designate new desert conservation lands; streamline and improve permitting process for large-scale wind and solar development on suitable desert lands; and enhance recreational opportunities-

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, today introduced a comprehensive bill to designate new lands in the Mojave Desert for conservation, enhance recreational opportunities, and streamline and improve the federal permitting process to advance large-scale wind and solar development on suitable lands. The carefully crafted legislation, titled the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, is the product of discussions with key stakeholders in Southern California.

The bill builds upon the legacy of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act – sponsored by Senator Feinstein – which protected more than 7 million acres of pristine desert in Southern California, and established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve.

“I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California Desert,” Senator Feinstein said. “This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns.”

“Earlier this year, I learned that Bureau of Land Management had accepted numerous applications to build vast solar and wind energy projects on former railroad lands previously owned by the Catellus Corporation that had been donated to the federal government or acquired with taxpayer funds for conservation. 

I believe the development of these new cleaner energy sources is vital to addressing climate change, yet we must be careful about selecting where these facilities are located.

Approximately $45 million of private donations, including a $5 million land discount from Catellus, and $18 million in federal Land and Water Conservation funds were spent to purchase these lands, with the intent of conserving them in perpetuity.

We have an obligation to honor our commitment to conserve these lands – and I believe we can still accomplish that goal while also fulfilling California’s commitment to develop a clean energy portfolio. There are many places in the California desert where development and employment are essential and appropriate.  But there are also places that future generations will thank us for setting aside.

Over the course of the past year, we have worked painstakingly to ensure that this legislation balances the needs of all stakeholders.  This bill, if enacted, will have a positive and enduring impact on the landscape of the Southern California desert, and I hope it will stand as a model for how to balance renewable energy development and conservation. I would urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to support this legislation, so that we can get it enacted as quickly as possible.”

As of today, the legislation has the support of:

  • The California Wilderness Coalition
  • The Wildlands Conservancy
  • The Wilderness Society
  • The National Parks Conservation Association
  • Friends of the River
  • Campaign for America's Wilderness
  • Cogentrix Energy
  • Edison International (parent company of Southern California Edison)
  • Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
  • Friends of the Desert Mountains
  • Mojave Desert Land Trust
  • Desert Protective Council
  • Amargosa Conservancy  
  • Death Valley Conservancy
  • Cities of Barstow, Desert Hot Springs, Hesperia, Indio, Palm Springs, San Bernardino and Yucaipa
  • Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley
  • San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry
  • Imperial County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber
  • Coachella Valley Association of Governments
  • SummerTree Institute
  • Route 66 Preservation Foundation

Bill Summary

A more detailed summary of the legislation, as well as relevant maps and a select group of images that capture the lands to be conserved are available online at: 

Title I: Conservation and Recreation

This first title of the bill deals primarily with conservation and recreation purposes. The bill:

  • Designates two new national monuments in the Mojave Desert:
    • The Mojave Trails National Monument would protect approximately 941,000 acres of federal land, including approximately 266,000 acres of the former railroad lands along historic Route 66.  The BLM would be given the authority to conserve the monument lands and also to maintain existing recreational uses, including hunting, vehicular travel on open roads and trails, camping, horseback riding and rockhounding.  
    • The Sand to Snow National Monument would encompass 134,000 acres of land from the desert floor in the Coachella Valley up to the top of Mount San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California.  The boundaries would include:
      - Two Areas of Critical Environmental Concern: Big Morongo Canyon and Whitewater Canyon
      - The BLM and U.S. Forest Service San Gorgonio Wilderness
      - The Wildlands Conservancy’s Pipe’s Canyon and Mission Creek Preserves, and;
      - Additional public and private conservation lands, including two wildlife movement corridor areas connecting the Peninsular Ranges with the Transverse Ranges.
  • Adds adjacent lands to Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve. This includes:
    • 41,000 acres added to Death Valley National Park, including former mining areas where the claims have been retired and a narrow strip of BLM land between National Park and Defense Department boundaries that has made BLM management difficult.
    • Almost 30,000 acres added to the Mojave National Preserve.  This land was not included in the original Monument because of a former Viceroy gold mining operation. However, the mining operations ceased several years ago, and the reclamation process is nearly complete. Additionally, a 2007 analysis by the Interior Department recommended that this area would be suitable to add to the Preserve.
    • An additional 2,900 acres added to Joshua Tree National Park in multiple small parcels of BLM land identified for disposal on its periphery.
  • Protects nearly 76 miles of important four waterways as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
    • This includes Deep Creek and Whitewater River in and near the San Bernardino National Forest, and Amargosa River and Surprise Canyon Creek near Death Valley National Park. 
  • Designates five new wilderness areas.
    • Designates approximately 250,000 acres of BLM wilderness areas near Fort Irwin that had previously been designated as wilderness study areas until base expansion was completed.
  • Enhances recreational opportunities, while ensuring that the training needs of the military have been met. 
    • The bill would designate four existing OHV areas in the California desert as permanent, providing off-highway groups some certainty that these uses will be protected as much as conservation areas.  With regard to the Johnson Valley OHV area, the Marines have agreed to consider an option for base expansion that would allow for an exclusive military use area, an exclusive OHV area, and a joint use area.

Title II: Renewable Energy Development

This second title of the legislation improves and streamlines the process to permit large-scale wind and solar development on suitable public and private lands in the California desert.

The bill:

  • Requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to establish offices specifically focused on renewable energy development in each state with significant wind and solar resources on public land. These offices would be funded from the existing BLM permit improvement fund – a fund which is currently only available to supervise the permitting for oil and natural gas development.
  • Helps cut through the backlog of pending renewable development applications with a “use it or lose it” approach to replace the BLM’s current “first come-first serve” practice. The legislation would establish strict deadlines for developers to conduct necessary biological and cultural studies, ensure connection to the grid, and develop a plan for water. This would ensure that serious development proposals are moved to the front of the line – and help put an end to unfettered speculation on desert lands.  
  • Expedites the application process for solar development on private lands.  The legislation would establish a pilot mitigation bank program to ensure that it takes no longer to review an application to develop private lands than it does to develop public lands – without infringing upon important environmental regulations. 
  • Requires the BLM, the Forest Service, and the military to complete Environmental Impact Statements on their programs to develop renewable energy on the lands they oversee. Federal land managers will be required to identify renewable energy development areas where development is in the public interest through the programmatic EIS process.  This will help avoid the sort of site-specific environmental conflicts that can delay projects for years.  It will also result in a formal evaluation of whether public land currently managed by the military will also be considered for solar development, instead of concentrating this development only on BLM land.  There are currently approximately 3 million acres of California desert that are managed by the military, and some of this land could be developed for renewable energy consistent with the military mission. 
  • Expedites the permitting of temporary meteorological measurement devices. 
  • Authorizes grants and provides loan guarantees to innovative electricity transmission technologies that will reduce the need to build massive, visually and environmentally disruptive transmission lines in the desert. 
  • Returns 25 percent of the revenue generated by new renewable energy projects to the state, and 25 percent to local county governments, ensuring that these entities have the resources to support permitting, public lands protection, and local conservation efforts. 


Related Files