Letters From the West

Environmental lawsuit over solar on public lands challenges idea that climate change is crisis

A lawsuit by the Western Lands Project in Seattle, Idaho’s Western Watersheds Project and the Desert Protective Council challenge the Obama Administration’s program to designate public lands that are appropriate for solar power development.
The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in California, challenges outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to open 285,000 acres in 17 zones in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah for large-scale solar projects. The groups say they are not against renewable energy projects; they just want them in developed areas such as parking lots and on rooftops.
Think about how these groups’ overall approach conflicts with that of many utilities, which are making it harder and more costly for customers to invest the capital themselves in rooftop solar power. The groups also are sending the message that while climate change may be an issue it certainly is no crisis that requires increased risks to address.
Don’t worry about the increased fires in the desert ecosystems due to global warming. No need to change priorities, after all, some of these advocates argue, climate change makes stopping the development of these ecosystems even more important since they will become even drier.

The Obama administration surveyed public lands across the five southwestern to come up with the lands where they welcomed renewable development so it would not be proposed in habitats where its scientists don’t think it should go. Some of the people in these groups question whether any renewable development should take place on public lands.
If the Obama Administration’s approach to energy policy is “all of the above,” the environmental groups appear to be saying “none of the above, except rooftop solar and on developed private lands.”
It is no surprise that utilities like Idaho Power Co. are keeping their options open by continuing to depend on coal instead of jumping into a new energy world also fraught with legal battles. Since after all, climate change is tomorrow’s problem.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West