The Trump vs. California environmental fight nobody’s talking about

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SAYS IT WANTS TO BUILD MORE SOLAR AND WIND FARMS IN THE CALIFORNIA DESERT. ENVIRONMENTALISTS AREN’T BUYING IT.

 PHOTOS AND VIDEO BY JAY CALDERON, THE DESERT SUN | PUBLISHED APRIL 18, 2018

 

Dried-out mud crackles underfoot as David Lamfrom walks across Silurian Lake toward two lonely creosote bushes, which make for as good a destination as any in this sun-baked backwater of the California desert. Patches of yellow wildflowers decorate the flat, dry lake bed, which sits in a valley ringed by mountains, 20 miles from the nearest town. That would be Baker, population 735, best known for the world’s tallest thermometer.

Some of the desert’s most iconic creatures find shelter here in Silurian Valley, from burrowing desert tortoises, to bighorn sheep that leave tracks across the landscape, to golden eagles that nest in the mountains. But what Lamfrom loves most about Silurian Valley is the solitude. The only signs of human civilization are distant power lines, barely visible on the horizon, and the occasional car or RV zipping by on the two-lane highway that connects Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park.

Lamfrom, who works for the National Parks Conservation Association, visits this place often. Usually he camps, but sometimes he and his girlfriend just put out lounge chairs on the dry lake and enjoy what he calls “one of the wildest places in the country.” Once you leave Baker, he says, “There’s nothing for 60 miles — in the best possible way.”

“Just unique, beautiful arid lands. Mountain range after mountain range, the Amargosa River. The Dumont Dunes and the Ibex Dunes. Death Valley National Park. And then Death Valley National Park continues for another hundred miles north,” Lamfrom says.

But on this particular visit to Silurian Valley, he’s worried.

For years, an energy company wanted to build a 29,000-acre solar-and-wind energy project here, adjacent to the dry lake. The Obama administration rejected the solar component of that plan in 2014, then designated the area for conservation under a sweeping land-use plan for the California desert. But the Trump administration may now undo that plan, which protects million of acres of public lands in the Golden State.

California officials were outraged when the Interior Department announced in February that it would consider changes to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which was finished in 2016 after eight years of collaboration between state and federal agencies. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called the Trump administration’s decision to revisit the plan “a complete waste of time and money.” The State Lands Commission, one of whose members is Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom, adopted a resolution calling Trump’s proposal “a grave threat to the fragile and complex desert ecosystem.”

 

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