July 14, 2008

BLM Sees the Light, Lifts Application Ban

It's telling that the Bureau of Land Management has shelved a month-old moratorium on applications for solar-power projects in the High Desert and other sun-drenched areas of the West.

Telling, we say, because the moratorium wasn't needed in the first place. BLM officials probably knew this, but they enacted it anyway to appease environmentalists and begin a two-year-long study of the impact of solar plants on habitat, wildlife corridors and the like. Less than a month later, however, under pressure from solar industry folks and a Nevada senator who vowed to overturn the moratorium, BLM lifted its ban.

That was the right decision, though some have already sounded the alarm, calling the move "disappointing,""horrible," even "devastating" for the environment.

We think BLM officials deserve more credit than that.

Honestly, it's not as if photovoltaic solar panels will begin sprouting from the desert floor this minute. Truth be known, there are 125 applications for solar projects on federal land in the West, 50 in San Bernardino County alone, and BLM officials have yet to act on one of them in the past couple years.

It's important to note, too, the agency has made a public commitment to reviewing the effects of solar-power plants and protecting designated wilderness areas and parks, as well as other areas.

"We have concerns, too," says Greg Miller, the bureau's renewable energy program manager for Southern California's desert district. "As responsible stewards, we have to make sure to protect the environment."

BLM's environmental review is under way in California as well as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, the states deemed most likely to help the agency meet a requirement to produce 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy in the next seven years. At the same time, the agency is processing existing applications for projects that would generate an average 250 megawatts.

We thank the BLM for lifting the brakes on projects aimed at helping us meet our demands for energy, particularly when rising gas prices are fueling uneasiness in so many American households.

But we also call on the agency to do all it can to protect pristine desert wildlands. Alternative energy programs are vital to our future, but we must not sacrifice our natural resources in our pursuit of greener pastures.

Disagree? We'd like to hear from you. Write us at [email protected]

(c) 2008 Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.