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For Immediate Release, June 30, 2009

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943,

Center for Biological Diversity Statement on Interior Secretary Salazar's Plan to
Fast-track Solar Energy Development on Public Lands  

LOS ANGELES— The Bureau of Land Management today released the details of a plan to facilitate timely solar energy development on public lands, including maps delineating more than 670,000 acres of areas in six western states that will undergo environmental review to assess whether they should be designated as “solar energy zones” for large-scale production of solar energy.

“We’re glad to see the Obama administration taking the steps necessary to help the nation transition to a renewable energy economy as quickly as possible,” said Ileene Anderson, biologist and public lands deserts director at the Center. “In identifying the solar energy zones, the Bureau should start with areas that are already disturbed or immediately adjacent to degraded private lands, or near existing infrastructure and wastewater sources, and avoid impacts to threatened and endangered species, sensitive environmental areas, and the water that sustains them.”

The Interior Department announced the plan yesterday, saying it’s taking steps to accelerate permitting of solar-energy projects on public lands by withdrawing 670,000 acres from other uses – including from development of fossil fuels – while it determines which areas are appropriate for solar-energy development. Through this process, the department and Bureau will evaluate 24 specific areas with high development potential. The agencies’ actions are informed in part by maps generated by the Center and other environmental groups that show high potential solar-energy development areas in the California desert.

“Based on the Center’s experience in the California desert, it is clear that lands both public and private are available to help move the nation to a fundamentally different energy pathway as soon as possible – one that emphasizes the use of renewables in addition to conservation, efficiency, and distributed generation to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Anderson added. “But we have to do so in the most environmentally responsible way possible. Protection of imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which wildlife and human communities both depend is essential as the inevitable effects of ongoing climate change emerge.” 

While the Interior Department’s announcement is promising, the Obama administration has not stopped Bush-era plans to develop coal-fired power plants on public lands in Nevada or New Mexico, and the Bureau has numerous large-scale coal-mining projects in the intermountain West. Recently, Secretary Salazar announced plans to offer a second round of leases to test technologies to develop oil shale and tar sands on 2 million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

“Since the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is clearly an impetus for this plan, the department should also be taking steps to phase out coal development on public lands immediately, to avoid catastrophic climate change,” said Anderson.

The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric CO2 pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 ppm, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change. Further development of greenhouse gas-intensive energy sources is fundamentally incompatible with achieving this goal. If greenhouse gas emissions are not immediately reduced, the current atmospheric CO2 level of 385 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering.

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