[1THING] Blog: Archive for February, 2012

[ Bill Gates Calls Current Level of Energy Research Funding “Crazy” ]

Bill Gates sees the transformative potential of low-cost energy. “Cheaper energy would be on the list of the three or four things you would want for the poorest people in the world,” he said Tuesday at the 2012 Energy Innovation Summit, sponsored by ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s three-year-old advanced energy research agency.

Cheaper energy with no new greenhouse gases would allow for improvements in other parts of these people’s lives, freeing up money for fertilizer, lighting, and other significant investments. “Without advances in energy,” Gates said, “they stay stuck where they are.”

But energy innovation is hard and requires more investment. Gates called energy research “greatly underfunded,” saying we should be spending twice as much. “It’s crazy how little we are funding this energy stuff,” he added.

Gates admitted that the rapid pace of innovation in the computer industry may have warped people’s views about the difficulty of the energy challenges and may partly explain the low levels of investment. In contrast with personal electronics, he pointed out that gigantic capital investments will be needed to change the way we generate energy.

The mandate for ARPA-E is to identify and fund potential breakthrough technologies that are at a very early stage of development, just beyond the level of laboratory work. Gates noted that failure is part of the process of innovation.  “It’s a very complex set of technologies,” he said, “We need literally thousands of companies doing these things to get the ten or so who are going to get it right.”

In Gates’s view, the prospect of failure does not preclude tackling ambitious projects. For example, Terrapower, a startup company Gates has supported, is exploring advanced nuclear designs, making use of the modeling power of supercomputers.

He has even provided some funding for research into geoengineering, something he characterized as a drastic step that might one day have to be considered if our energy practices don’t change fast enough. Drawing an analogy, he asked, “Is heart surgery preferable to a good diet? Of course not. Let’s go for the good diet.”

To the hundreds of scientists in the room, each working to develop the next breakthrough energy idea, that sounded pretty appetizing.

[ Western leaders speak on renewable energy done right ]

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Balancing our energy needs, the environment and wildlife protection—while creating jobs and boosting rural economies—is something we can achieve. Clean, renewable energy has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in how America plans for our energy future. These messages and others were reinforced by western energy leaders who paid a visit to Washington recently.   Just days after the President released his FY13 Budget that proposes increased investment in renewable research, planning, and incentives, state voices spoke about why getting renewable energy done right matters for special places and for the economy the West.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University was one of three leaders who spoke at a press briefing and at a bi-partisan event on Capitol Hill sponsored by Representatives Polis (D-CO), Lujan (D-NM) and Gosar (R-AZ).  Ritter was joined by two former public utility commissioners, Kris Mayes—Chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission from 2003-2010 and now faculty at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, and Timothy Hay, a former Commissioner to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. Hay was also Nevada’s Consumer Advocate, working on behalf of ratepayers.

Ritter, Mayes and Hay have been instrumental in implementing state renewable portfolio standards that have created market incentives to get projects on the ground. An aggressive focus on energy conservation and efficiency in all three states has also been part of strategies to put people back to work and to save money. These western leaders are attune to what voters care about–conserving wild landscapes, while bolstering the economy by transitioning to renewables and investing in energy efficiency.

A few themes emerged from their remarks, including the need for consistent financing and greater certainty for siting projects, as well as key state and federal market drivers such as a national plan for greenhouse gas emissions. Governor Ritter made a request from Washington for more investment certainty for renewable energy projects, stating “there are a lot of people who are still very willing to invest in clean energy and clean energy development .… there’s too much investment uncertainty.”  Kris Mayes echoed that these investments can pay dividends down the road in reduced costs for electricity; citing Arizona’s aggressive 22% energy efficiency standard by 2020 that will save Arizona ratepayers $9 billion dollars.

Mayes also hit on another important point—that renewable energy should continue to be a bi-partisan issue. Her call to action was directed at members of her party who “are opposing renewable energy and have seemed to come to the conclusion that this is something Democrats support.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  My colleagues on the Hill need to understand that their constituents overwhelmingly believe we need to move to a clean energy economy and that this is our economic destiny.” 

Wind and solar incentives have received more bi-partisan support as of late because renewable energy manufacturing and projects have become important drivers in the American economy. Nearly all members of the Colorado delegation sent a letter to House and Senate leadership recently encouraging the extension of the Production Tax Credit, which has been largely responsible for a growth in investment in wind and has the potential to create thousands more wind manufacturing jobs in the state. A similar bi-partisan letter was penned by all representatives from Iowa the following week.

Getting projects built relies on more than bi-partisan support for renewables and fiscal certainty; it also takes good planning, upfront environmental review, and early stakeholder engagement. Efforts to tackle these three issues have been underway since 2009 through the BLM’s solar energy programmatic EIS. When asked about this solar planning effort, Nevadan Tim Hay offered that “the PEIS process is critically important to us … making sure that [our] county and local regulatory bodies are plugged in in a way they can engage in the dialogues early on, particularly on transmission issues. It is a large task to coordinate the various entities but the federal government taking the lead on that has certainly been helpful.”

The Wilderness Society has advocated in forums across the West that the best way to protect wild places is to identify resources conflicts early in the process.  TWS also supports alternatives to new energy development such as efficiency, conservation and demand-side solutions. The visit to Washington by these important western leaders was a re-affirmation that western citizens recognize that good planning, increased financial certainty, and market drivers are important and connected paths to getting environmentally-responsible renewable energy permitted and built.

 

[ Western Caucus Attacks America’s Treasured Lands in Arizona ]

America’s Wilderness, including Grand Canyon, under siege

The Wilderness Society today challenged the objective and focus of the Western Caucus event, “Washington Obstacles to Prosperity and Property Rights in the West.”  The event focused on undermining bedrock environmental laws and America’s recreation economy that thrives on protected lands. The Grand Canyon was among the places under siege, just as the mining and nuclear industries filed suit to overturn Secretary Salazar’s effort to protect this iconic American treasure.

One witness was from Arizona, repeating the misguided mantra of extractive industries being great for local economies. Yet, history has shown the long-term destructive boom-and-bust cycle of mining’s impact on local economies.

“When the commodity price drops, companies lay off local employees, leave the pollution, and take their profits elsewhere.” said Mike Quigley, Arizona wildlands campaign coordinator at The Wilderness Society. “We need a more robust and sustained economic model for Arizona’s future; and we need an appropriate—that is, greater—focus on conservation as part of that.”

Citizens across the West are not buying what opponents of environmental safeguards are selling. A recent bi-partisan poll from Colorado College showed that 90 percent of Arizona voters agreed that “our national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of Arizona’s economy.”  Additionally, 74 percent said that “Arizona should maintain protections for land, air and water in the state rather than reduce them in an effort to create jobs as quickly as possible.” This is not surprising, given that the Grand Canyon National Park supported roughly 10,000 jobs annually between 2005 and 2010.

America’s Wilderness is Under Siege from a select few members of Congress, and the witnesses echoed this dangerous rhetoric. Witnesses took aim at some of our most treasured lands, such as the Grand Canyon, preferring to have these lands managed by corporate polluters and irresponsible developers instead of the general public.

To see how opening our lands would impact Arizona, please visit: http://wilderness.org/content/wilderness-under-siege-act-now-stop-attacks

[ Western Caucus Hearing Undermines Collaborative Initiatives in Idaho ]

America’s Wilderness is under siege from corporate polluters and its handful of allies

The Wilderness Society today challenged the objective and focus of the Western Caucus event, “Washington Obstacles to Prosperity and Property Rights in the West.”  The event focused on tired agendas that aim to undermine bedrock environmental laws and America’s recreation economy that thrives on protected laws.  The views and testimonies given reflect a minority of elected officials and stakeholders who would rather open our lands and waters to corporate polluters than save it for the American people to enjoy.

Several witnesses were from Idaho, yet in their divisive testimony, they ignored the fact that their state is the beneficiary of three federal efforts aimed at improving the health of the state’s national forests and helping local communities.  These projects are instrumental in helping former adversaries find common ground and workable solutions that make Idaho’s national forests a better place.

Last month the U.S. Forest Service announced Idaho will receive funding, totaling $5.7 million, for national forest restoration efforts.  Funded under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), the work in national forests will accomplish critical restoration objectives, including forest health and resilience and community safety.   The projects will stimulate local economies and increase forest related jobs.

The three projects are:
• Selway-Middle Fork Clearwater Project — $3 million
• Weiser-Little Salmon Headwaters Project — $2.4 million
• Kootenai Valley Resources Initiative — $324,000

Craig Gehrke, Idaho regional director at The Wilderness Society, said “These are projects where locals chose not to listen to the tired fed-bashing rhetoric of the politicians and instead rolled up their sleeves and got to work developing real on the ground opportunities for forest management.”

Timber industry representatives, conservationists, local officials, sportsmen and others have worked tirelessly to find common ground that forms the foundation of these projects.  The U.S. Forest Service has been a key partner in these efforts and deserves a large part of the credit for their success. 

And the results are already apparent.  On-the-ground collaboration has been a factor in both the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests exceeding their timber sale goals for FY11.  Local residents have attributed the success of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative and the CFLRP for the Selway-Middle Fork Clearwater for the increased timber harvesting. 

America’s Wilderness is Under Siege from a select few members of Congress, and the witnesses echoed this dangerous rhetoric. Witnesses took aim at some of our most treasured lands, such as the Grand Canyon, preferring to have these lands managed by corporate polluters and irresponsible developers instead of the general public.

But citizens across the West are not buying what these opponents of environmental safeguards are selling. A recent bi-partisan poll from Colorado College showed that 78 percent of Western voters felt that “we can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one of the other.” Additionally, 66 percent of Western swing voters said that “environmental laws are important safeguards, rather than burdensome regulations.”

To see how opening our lands would impact Idaho, please visit: http://wilderness.org/content/wilderness-under-siege-act-now-stop-attacks

[ New protections on the horizon for greater sage-grouse ]

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The greater sage-grouse is a western icon, famous for its courtship ritual, which draws curious crowds every spring to witness the males perform an elaborate strutting display and mating calls . The bird was once ubiquitous in the lower-elevation sagebrush landscape of the western United States and British Columbia. But rampant oil and gas drilling, road development and other causes of habitat fragmentation across our western lands have imperiled the greater sage-grouse and led to significant population declines. So much so that in 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declared the bird warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the steward of more than half of all remaining sagebrush habitat in the United States (ranging up to 47 million acres by the agency’s own estimates). As the survival of the greater sage-grouse and the entire sagebrush ecosystem are under threat, the BLM should maximize the opportunity and their obligation to protect and improve sage-grouse habitat while also ensuring a healthy greater sagebrush ecosystem.

Although the FWS found that greater sage-grouse warrants protection under the ESA, the agency also determined that listing the bird was precluded due to higher listing priorities at the time. Now, the FWS is preparing to make a new listing decision by 2015. During this time period, the BLM has committed to incorporating objectives and conservation measures into resource management plans with the goal to conserve and rehabilitate greater sage-grouse populations to recovery levels that will avoid an official listing under the ESA – an action that would have enormous impacts on all sorts of development in the western states.

The BLM (along with the U.S. Forest Service) has commenced an effort to evaluate and incorporate conservation measures into land use plans in 10 Western states – affecting millions of acres. The range of activities to be addressed includes transmission, oil and gas leasing, renewable energy development, roads and recreation. BLM has also issued guidance regarding management of a similarly wide range of activities while the environmental impact statements to update land use plans are completed. Taken together, these efforts could make a real difference for the greater sage-grouse and the BLM lands writ large.

BLM’s ongoing initiatives to manage at a landscape scale can support the sage-grouse environmental impact statements by using information from the Rapid Ecological Assessments that are focused on climate change, incorporating proactive management of oil and gas development through master leasing plans and using information already collected on wind potential and environmental sensitivities to identify preferred zones for wind energy development.

The BLM has also requested proposals for designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs); this is the time to not only make ACEC designations, but also to equip such designations with meaningful management prescriptions and provide updated guidance on using this critical tool. BLM should also include a realistic analysis of the effect of climate change on the sagebrush ecosystem, so that effective adaptation strategies are incorporated into the management of a substantial portion of the public lands.

At the same time, the agency has recently issued an instruction memorandum on management of activities in sage-grouse habitat during the preparation of these new EISs. Applying this guidance with an emphasis on conservation and limiting harmful activities is key to ensuring that the management prescriptions in land use plans will be sufficient and have a chance to work.

This is a critical junction in the management of BLM lands – one in which the agency, with the help of scientists, stakeholders and citizens, can chart a path forward for our public lands that conserves the many ecological and wilderness values of the sagebrush sea while promoting strategic development of the resources and recreation that our communities rely on.
 

[ The Wilderness Society applauds Senator Udall announcement on wilderness discussion process ]

Senator Udall asks for community input on the protection of Browns Canyon and areas in the Central Mountains

The Wilderness Society today praised Colorado Senator Mark Udall for launching a new process to discuss the protection of two critical areas in Colorado. The Senator will ask for community input for establishing permanent protection for the Arkansas River Canyon and selected parcels in the central Rocky Mountains in Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties. Protection for both areas has long been supported by local communities that include business owners, sportsmen, elected officials, recreation groups and more.

The Arkansas River Canyon National Monument and Browns Canyon Wilderness process will consider a national monument designation for approximately 20,000 acres along the iconic Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista. Browns Canyon serves as a home for a variety of animals and is a haven for outdoor recreationists who travel to Chaffee County from across the U.S. to raft, fish, hike, hunt, and camp in this segment of the Arkansas River.  The recreational experiences are only rivaled by the incredible scenery that consists of granite canyons and a mix of meadows and forests. For more than 10 years, local community members have been advocating for the protection of this economic engine and are pleased to see the process moving forward.

“My business livelihood and quality of life both depend on the protection of Browns Canyon,” said Michael Kunkel, owner of Lifestream Water Systems in Salida, Colorado. “I want to thank Senator Mark Udall for recognizing the natural and cultural significance of this canyon, and listening to small business owners throughout this process. Protecting this natural treasure will continue to benefit our local economy by keeping jobs here at home while also providing incredible nature immersion experiences.”

The Central Rocky Mountains process will consider roughly 236,000 acres in 32 areas in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties. These areas include additions to existing Wilderness Areas including Holy Cross, Eagles Nest and the Maroon Bells.  This area serves as critical animal habitat and offers ample outdoor recreation opportunities.  Locals and visitors repeatedly flock to this natural treasure to hike, hunt, fish and camp. The surrounding towns and counties benefit greatly from the economic sustainability tourists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts bring from around the state, country, and world.

Outdoor recreation is an important economic driver in Colorado. It contributes over $10 billion annually to Colorado’s economy and supports over 107,000 jobs across the state. Additionally, a recent bi-partisan poll by Colorado College found that 93 percent of those surveyed agreed that “our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.”

“Senator Udall is calling for this community-driven process because these places are too special not to be protected,” said Jeff Widen, conservation designations associate director at The Wilderness Society. “Coloradoans value these lands for the spectacular beauty, recreational activities and economic opportunities they provide.”

The Wilderness Society is looking forward to working with Senator Udall on the public process and ultimately protecting these iconic places.

[ Jeff Jarvis leadership award handed out to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument leader ]

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Venture into Southern Utah and you will find yourself surrounded by multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles and canyons that glow in the sunlight. Nearly two million acres of this land make up the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument- a scientific and geological wonder within a spectacular wilderness. 

Managing the scientific values within this vast Monument can be a challenge, but Carolyn Shelton, Assistant Manager-Science and Visitor Services, has displayed extraordinary abilities to lead efforts to ensure science and research are priorities within Grand Staircase. To honor her commitment she was awarded The Conservation Lands Alliance’s Jeff Jarvis Conservation Leadership Award. The Jeff Jarvis Conservation Leadership Award has been established to honor the legacy and leadership of Jeff Jarvis, a longtime Bureau of Land Management leader, and to inspire current and future leaders within the BLM to demonstrate the passion that Jeff had for the protection and management of BLM lands within the National Landscape Conservation System.

The Grand Staircase was the first monument established under the National Landscape Conservation System and managed by the BLM. It is home to fossilized dinosaur beds and previously undiscovered plant species, and holds a wealth of yet-to-be analyzed scientific and cultural data.  The place is a breeding ground for discovery and Shelton has been a passionate supporter for scientific work within the Monument. She has led the implementation of the Monument Management Plan and exudes a passion for science, wilderness and appropriate recreation uses in the Monument, as well as the Conservation System as a whole.

Shelton was nominated for the award by the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners—a member of the Conservation Lands Alliance. The Alliance is a coalition of eighty conservation, historic preservation, faith-based, recreation, business, education and place-based friends groups representing millions of Americans nationwide and working to advance the mission of the National Landscape Conservation System. The Alliance recognized her work in:

  • Using innovation to secure funding for an important vacant position in the science program, Carolyn worked through the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners organizations to help fund a Science Coordinator position. The position was so successful that the Washington evaluation team recommended hiring a Science Program Administrator.
     
  • As division chief for science and visitor services she helps train visitor center staff on ways to incorporate research knowledge into the educational programs for the benefit of visitors.  She also insures that the staff understands the purpose and mission of the National Conservation Lands. This work is incredibly important in BLM’s goal to bring more public awareness to the Conservation System as well as better integrating the System into the BLM, agency-wide.
     
  • Shelton has had a long and distinguished career with BLM before she came to the Grand Staircase National Monument, as well. For example, in addition to providing leadership in the development and design of the award-winning visitor centers for the Monument, she led the design of the equally wonderful and impressive National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon.

Aldo Leopold once wrote that a land ethic “reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land.” We believe that honoring this commitment is important and that often times those who take on this responsibility go unnoticed. The Jeff Jarvis Conservation Leadership Award is one way to recognize those who go above and beyond. This year Carolyn Shelton deservedly gets that acknowledgement.

[ Presidents and the Price of Oil ]

Offshore oil rig, Brazil

Even if we go with more offshore drilling, we have to accept that it takes years for one of these rigs to be sited and produce oil. Photo: Agencia Brasil

If you’re a primary voter, you’ve got your pick of candidates who’ll promise to bring down the price of gasoline. Unfortunately, whoever wins is going to run up against the limits of presidential power pretty quickly.

The fact is that presidents don’t have that much authority over the price of oil, for a number of virtually inescapable reasons.

  • Oil is a truly global commodity. There’s a lot of anger over the fact that the U.S. can be exporting oil even as prices remain high at home. But that’s based on a false assumption: that somehow we should use up all the oil we have at home first, and then export whatever’s left (or import if we come up short). But in fact oil is sold on global commodities markets like the New York Mercantile Exchange. It’s one big market out there, and whoever’s willing to pay the most per barrel on a given day gets the oil. Even oil-rich countries may buy on the spot markets to smooth out production.
  •  Oil markets are vulnerable to speculation. Because oil is bought and sold on a daily basis in markets that operate more or less like the stock market,  the price of oil is sensitive to all kinds of political and weather events.  Oil traders can be a little like nervous people stocking up on bottled water and canned goods before a storm. Sure, the hurricane may veer out to sea, and the latest tensions with Iran may get resolved over time but in the meantime, people will clear out the shelves. The price of oil can shoot up in the face of hurricanes, coups, embargoes—or even just talk about them. And news that the crises are easing—or that there are big new oil discoveries somewhere—can bring them down again.
  • Producing more oil here doesn’t mean it’ll stay here. Because of global markets, if China, India or some other country is willing to pay more on a given day, then that’s where the oil is going. As China and other developing countries boom and buy cars, we’re going to see more and more competition for the oil that’s on the market. Unless the next president and Congress are willing to dramatically change how oil is sold – like imposing a tariff on overseas sales – then there’s no guarantee that oil produced here will stay here. And a tariff wouldn’t keep prices low for Americans; quite the opposite in fact.
  • Prices move fast, but energy policy doesn’t. It actually takes years for policy changes to take effect, because energy projects don’t spring up overnight. Even if we choose to open up more areas to drilling, the Energy Department estimates it will take a minimum of five years for any expanded offshore drilling to actually be in production, and 10 years for expanded Alaskan fields to reach the market. It could be longer:  the Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico took eight years to get into production, and Canada’s Hibernia platform took 19 years.

With time frames like that, what the next president should do, and has to do, is get us to an energy policy that deals with our long term issues: the soaring worldwide demand for energy, and how we meet it without ending up with ruinous global climate change. That means going back to fundamental questions about the kinds of vehicles we drive, and the kinds of power plants we build.

But that’s not the conversation we’re having. And until we start having it, promises to lower prices at the pump are going to be empty ones—and misleading and manipulative ones at that.

[ National Solar Energy Plan Moves Closer to Final Stages ]

On the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union remarks to expand clean energy development, the Interior Department is moving to finalize the nation’s first solar energy program for public lands with the closing of the public comment period today. Over the past 90 days, the Bureau of Land Management has been seeking input on the Supplemental Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SPEIS) for solar development on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The solar plan has garnered more than 100,000 comments in the past two years from stakeholders across the country advocating for balanced, guided development that would minimize potential impacts on wildlife and sensitive lands, and reduce uncertainty in permitting. Solar companies, major trade associations, utilities and conservation groups also submitted a joint letter to Interior with recommendations to help shape a successful solar program.

Following are statements from conservation groups and other stakeholders in support of guided solar development:

“It’s time to kick our addiction to polluting fuels and create new jobs by increasing clean sources of energy,” said Johanna Wald, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Interior’s intention to guide development to thoughtfully designated ‘solar energy zones’ will help ensure the success of the solar industry and our nation’s quick transition to a clean energy economy while protecting irreplaceable lands and wildlife. Reaching that balance is a tall order but Interior has provided strong leadership demonstrating that a comprehensive final solar program can be achieved.”

“We are at a critical juncture in the future of solar development on our public lands,” said Chase Huntley, Director of Renewable Energy Policy at The Wilderness Society.  “We have seen a tremendous amount of leadership from staff at the Department of the Interior to ensure we develop a strong solar program. Over the next few months we hope to see them finalizing a plan that strikes a balance between wildlands and wildlife protection while creating certainty and a level playing field for the solar industry.”

“If the Obama administration is to reach the goal of powering three million homes with clean energy by the year’s end, it must move quickly to put in place a smart solar energy program that speeds up permitting of projects. The key is to guide development away from conflicts with wildlife and natural resources to areas with access to transmission,” said Jim Lyons, Senior Director for Renewable Energy with Defenders of Wildlife. “The Interior Department’s proposed solar program focuses on producing power in low-conflict and no-conflict zones and offers the best opportunity to achieve this goal.  This zone-based approach is an important step toward producing energy in the right places and protecting sensitive public lands and wildlife.”

“Properly designed solar energy zones on public lands would be a major step forward in helping create an enduring and stable investment environment for the solar industry,” said Nancy Pfund, founder and managing partner at DBL Investors. “As a solar investor, I believe the biggest advantage of the zones approach is reducing uncertainty in permitting. By doing so, it will reduce risks and attract long-term investments for projects that will create jobs and help advance our nation’s clean energy goals.”

“The Bureau of Land Management's latest solar energy plan is a major step forward in achieving the multiple goals of efficient solar development and protecting our water, wildlife and magnificent western landscapes,” said Timothy Hay, former Nevada consumer advocate and public utility commissioner. “By establishing clearly defined zones for solar energy development, we can begin to provide investors, developers, conservationists and citizens the predictability and stability to move forward.”

“Well-designed solar energy zones will result in faster permitting and speedier construction of projects,” said Jonathan Foster, a director of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) in California. “Interior’s approach to guide solar development to appropriate areas strikes the right balance between protecting critical lands and wildlife, and providing greater certainty for project success – and should be supported by solar developers, environmentalists, and the public at large.”

“The solar industry is up to the task of meeting the President’s goal for dramatically expanding our rich solar resources in the Southwest,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.  “However, project developers need clear rules of the road that balance the need for flexibility to build solar power plants both inside and outside of designated Solar Energy Zones with responsible stewardship of public lands, resources and wildlife. These are not mutually exclusive objectives and we look forward to continuing work with stakeholders.”

[ Top Environmental Scientists Sound a Call to Action ]

Earlier this week, top scientists released a paper urging governments to take restorative steps for the planet’s ecosystem. Faced with today’s challenges, “Society has no choice but to take dramatic action,” the authors write. They note the important role that energy –- and particularly reliance on fossil fuel — plays in climate change, biodiversity loss and damage to the environment.

The paper integrates insights from 20 historical recipients of the Blue Planet Prize, which is awarded by the Asahi Glass Foundation for scientific strides in solving global environmental problems. Two of the report’s authors, José Goldemberg and Amory Lovins, are on the Great Energy Challenge advisory board.

Key recommendations in Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act include:

  • Replace GDP as a measure of wealth with metrics for natural, built, human and social capital — and how they intersect.
  • Eliminate subsidies in sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture that create environmental and social costs, which currently go unpaid.
  • Tackle overconsumption in high-income countries, and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all.
  • Transform decision-making processes to empower marginalized groups, and integrate economic, social and environmental policies instead of having them compete.
  • Conserve and value biodiversity and ecosystem services, and create markets for them that can form the basis of green economies.
  • Invest in knowledge — both in creating and in sharing it — through research and training that will enable governments, business, and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.

The paper concludes, “Governments, the private sector, voluntary and civil society at large all have key roles to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy, adaptation to climate change and a more sustainable use of ecosystems … Failure to act will impoverish current and future generations.”

Collecting and summarizing insights from a number of the world’s top scientists was no small feat. Lovins said of the effort, “The Blue Planet Prize laureates are distinguished, diverse, knowledgeable, and opinionated, so Sir Robert Watson (formerly the excellent head of the IPCC) took on a formidable task when he undertook a quick synthesis of their recommendations for the world. As always, he rose to this worthy challenge.”