Federal & State "Conservation Plan"
Guts Environmental Protections

Posted April 20, 2013

High Desert sleeps as major plan develops.

      Streamlining the environmental review process to ignore many environmental issues and to fast track desert alternative energy projects is the aim of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).  The plan is expected to have a high negative impact to the California deserts, including areas adjacent Newberry Springs.

      DRECP is an enormous and unwieldy plan by the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to regulate 22.5-million acres of federal and non-federal California desert land in seven counties, including Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego, in order to fast track alternative energy developments with minimal environmental review and oversight.

      The DRECP is being pushed by the Obama Administration that wants a rapid expansion of alternative energy installations during Obama's last term in office.  The Administration sees the gutting of federal and state environmental protections as a necessary measure to allow developers a better means to forecast construction expenses and timelines.

      The plan, which has been several years in the making, preselects large areas for fast tracking solar, wind and thermal energy development by the prior acceptance of the environmental impacts that such projects would have.

      To assist from Sacramento, the state Senate is working on reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with Senate Bill 731.  The state's assault upon the environmental laws are being fronted by the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association who claim that the environmental laws are creating lawsuits that are hampering California's development.  The two associations are financially backed by national and foreign special interests who are set to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in profits with fast tracking.  Other backers include sports stadium developers and transportation interests.

      Watching with a very weary eye from San Bernardino county is the Newberry Springs Community Alliance and other groups, the largest contingent of county citizens being from the Morongo Valley area.  Together their numbers are very limited as the plan is largely unknown.  Larger state and national groups, such as the Sierra Club and the National Park Conservation Association have also been monitoring the progress of the plan; however their clout is limited against the political money involved.

      Currently, the plan is in its development stage.  On April 16, 2013, a DRECP "workshop" was held before the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in their county board room.  The program commenced with DRECP organizers making a presentation before the supervisors followed by public speakers for and against the plan.

      The DRECP comprises the majority of San Bernardino county's desert and includes much of the First and Third Supervisor Districts.  The two supervisor seats are held by two newly elected supervisors, Robert A. Lovingood and James Ramos.

      The comments by both of the supervisors were in startling contrast to the pre-November positions of the board.  It was revitalizing to hear the two current supervisors side together with the county residents to question the developing mechanics of the plan.

      The DRECP organizers previously held a public meeting for citizens' input in Ontario because of the convenience of the airport for the federal and state agencies.  Ontario is in Supervisor Gary Ovitt's Fourth District which is not impacted by the plan and is a great distance from the desert's residential stakeholders in Morongo Valley, Needles, Baker, and elsewhere.  In voicing concern over their constituents inability to travel distances to attend such meetings, the supervisors received repeated applause from the gallery.

      The future benefactor projects of this plan will adversely affect hundreds of thousands of acres of desert land for the installation of technologies that opponents claim will be obsolete soon into the projects' lifespan, leaving electric ratepayers, and a slow-to-recover scared desert, stuck with the results.

      Opposition further stated that photovoltaic installations would be better placed upon the roofs of the end-users, such as the vast industrial roofs in Supervior Gary Ovitt's Ontario district; and question why the county would want to support a plan that would limit its authority upon future developments.

      Immediately after the 90-minute workshop, the Community Alliance attempted to acquire a copy of the meeting's video in order to present portions with this article; only to learn that despite the chamber's video working, no 99-cent DVD was inserted for recording.  This is disappointing because supervisors Lovingood and Ramos excelled for their constituents and video snippets would have helped convey the importance of the DRECP to their constituents.

      According to the board's clerk, the meeting was a "Special Meeting" and despite an operator working the video equipment, Special Meetings only require an audio recording because some Special Meetings are held at remote locations that do not have video recording capabilities; and to remain consistent, no video is recorded at any Special Meeting.

      The stated federal and state agencies, as well as the California Senate, are quickly railroading environmental protections into oblivion that will a thousand-times exceed the energy overlay damage that permitted the small solar facility being built adjacent Newberry Springs' Mountain View Road.

      High Desert residents remain largely unaware of the magnitude and impact of this plan.

Newberry Springs Community Alliance

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