Press Release Apr 5, 2016

Obama Administration Approves Harmful Energy Project in the California Desert

Department of Interior approved the Soda Mountain Solar Project, which is widely regarded as the most controversial renewable energy proposal in the region, and stands to industrialize important habitat for bighorn sheep and other wildlife, less than half a mile from Mojave National Preserve.

Over the objections of the National Park Service, state and federal scientists, tribes, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and other local voices, the Department of Interior today approved the Soda Mountain Solar Project. Soda Mountain Solar is widely regarded as the most controversial renewable energy proposal in the region, and stands to industrialize important habitat for bighorn sheep and other wildlife, less than half a mile from Mojave National Preserve.

“The approval of Soda Mountain Solar is a stark contradiction by the Obama Administration,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association. “Less than two months ago, we lauded the administration as conservation heroes after they designated national monuments in the California desert to protect and connect important landscapes. Today, in an incredibly disappointing move, the Administration approved this harmful renewable energy project that is devoid of public support and contradicts its own scientists and policies. This decision inhibits national park wildlife from migrating and adapting to a changing climate, and fails to abide by the Interior Department’s pledge to balance energy development with the protection of special places. We will continue to fight this decision and work to protect this pristine, beautiful, wildlife-rich landscape.”

Because of the threats posed by Soda Mountain Solar to Mojave National Preserve, the park was selected as one of nine #ParksInPeril by National Parks Conservation Association.

The Interior Department’s decision to approve the project comes after nearly two years of deliberation, during which thousands of recreational users, national park lovers, scientists, and the National Park Service urged denial of the project. Recognizing the many values of the area, 120 business leaders, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stakeholders, scientists, and former Interior Department employees petitioned the Interior Department last spring to designate Soda Mountains an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) that would have stopped such inappropriate development.

“Our organization is comprised of former National Park Service rangers, park superintendents, and scientists who dedicated their careers to safeguarding natural treasures including Mojave National Preserve,” said Maureen Finnerty, Chair of the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “Therefore it is deeply disappointing on a very personal level to see the Interior Department make such a poor decision, following years of opposition by Mojave National Preserve’s Superintendent and many other current and former park officials.”

“One of the lessons I have learned from years of scientific research is that conservation depends not only on protection but also on connection,” said Thomas E. Lovejoy, professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, and former science advisor to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. “The recolonization of the Soda Mountains by bighorn sheep shows how important these natural connections are and how resilient nature can be when given a chance. The neighboring Mojave National Preserve, along with the Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, constitute glories of the Southwest that should be managed in perpetuity, not chipped away and degraded.”

“We can enjoy the benefits of 100% clean energy without sacrificing unspoiled public land,“ said Bruce Nilles, Senior Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. "At the same time we are fighting to eliminate dirty fossil fuels, we have a shared responsibility to protect vulnerable species, and lands, such as Soda Mountain. There has been tremendous progress in landscape level planning for renewable energy and conservation, yet regulatory agencies continue to let projects which are relic of a previous era move forward. The federal government has made two reckless decisions in one week for California’s wildlife legacy — approving both Soda Mountain and the Panoche Valley Solar Project, a similar ‘relic’ project that could devastate three endangered species in Central California.”

The Soda Mountain Solar project has experienced broad and unified opposition since first proposed in 2007. It was originally listed by the Interior Department as a fast-track project until opposition from the National Park Service and local communities forced it to be taken off the list - the only project to have that distinction. Bechtel is the current project owner. Despite intense opposition and no purchaser for the project’s power, the company continues to push the initiative forward. In fact, last summer the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced that it would not buy energy from the Soda Mountain Solar project.

The Bechtel-backed Soda Mountain Solar project will be built near the third-largest national park site in the lower 48 states, Mojave National Preserve, and near the proposed Soda Mountain Wilderness Area. The proposed project site has been recognized by the Interior Department as a pristine landscape and is currently free from power lines and other infrastructure. The site is also home to old-growth desert and animals that are listed for protection by state and federal agencies, including desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, kit fox, burrowing owl, and American badger.

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About National Parks Conservation Association Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.