Defenders View - Ensuring that Green Energy is Clean Energy
by Rodger Schlickeisen, President
© Krista Schlyer
The winds of change have been blowing strong in Washington since last year’s election. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tackling of the problem of global warming. By passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, introduced by Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the House of Representatives has demonstrated that addressing global warming is one of our highest national priorities. While we wait to see if the Senate will adopt similar—and hopefully even stronger—legislation, the Obama administration has made it clear that the time for action on global warming is now.
Defenders of Wildlife strongly supports legislation to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that causes global warming. And we have worked hard, and so far successfully, to include in that legislation provisions to help ensure that science-based, strategic steps are taken to assist wildlife and ecosystems to survive the impacts already underway from global warming.
One of the key steps in combating global warming is to switch from dirty, carbon-spewing energy generated by outdated coal-fired plants, to clean, renewable energy, including wind, solar and geothermal power. Recognizing this, the Obama administration is making the development of renewable energy, particularly on public lands, a top priority.
So, to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan, part of the answer to global warming is “blowin’ in the wind.” But like so much in life, there are rarely simple answers. Green energy is not always clean energy, at least so far as wildlife and habitat are concerned.
• The massive rotating blades of wind turbines located on Appalachian ridgelines can pose lethal hazards to migratory birds and bats, some of which are already imperiled.
• Sage grouse, apparently perceiving the tall towers built to hold wind turbines as likely roosting sites for predators such as hawks and eagles, avoid habitat where towers are located, leading to further population declines for this increasingly rare species.
• Vast arrays of solar mirrors are proposed to occupy huge swaths of habitat in some of our most fragile desert ecosystems, further reducing habitat for threatened species such as the desert tortoise.
• Producing electricity from the sun requires large amounts of water for thermal generation and storage, in areas where water is already the scarcest, and most precious, resource.
• Transmission facilities for renewable energy may fragment habitat and pose hazards to migrating wildlife, such as sandhill cranes dodging new power lines as they fly to and from the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.
At Defenders of Wildlife, we recognize both the need for renewable energy development and the challenges it poses to wildlife and habitat. That is why we are working hard to ensure that renewable energy development is carried out responsibly, avoiding and minimizing the adverse impacts on wildlife and ecosystems.
Already, Defenders employees have analyzed solar energy development zones identified by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and made recommendations for modifying those zones to protect wildlife. Defenders personnel in California are working in an innovative collaboration between conservation groups and the solar industry to protect the fragile California desert while identifying sites for solar energy projects on degraded and disturbed lands. Defenders experts also are serving on an advisory committee developing federal guidelines for siting wind energy facilities to reduce the threat to wildlife. And Defenders worked closely with Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wisc.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) to develop a bill they introduced in June, America’s Wildlife Heritage Act, which will ensure that BLM and the U.S. Forest Service manage national forests, grasslands and other public lands to maintain sustainable populations of fish and wildlife. Among other things, this requirement will assist federal land managers in deciding where to locate renewable energy projects with the least impact on wildlife.
In the coming months, Defenders will continue to work with both the Obama administration and Congress to promote responsible renewable energy development, putting in place policies that ensure wildlife and habitat are not harmed. And, when necessary, we will go to court to make sure our conservation laws are followed, so that the push for renewable energy projects does not run roughshod over the wildlife so many Americans treasure.