Defenders View - Ensuring that Green Energy is Clean Energy

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© Krista Schlyer

© 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One of the key steps in combating global warming is to switch from dirty, carbon-spewing energy generated by outdated coal-fired plants, to clean, renewable energy, including wind, solar and geothermal power.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.

For example:

•  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.

More Articles from Fall 2009

Roads and development spell trouble for Florida's panthers
On a remote island in the Great Lakes, wolves and moose struggle against global warming's effects
Scientists try to get a grip on one of America’s least-abundant and most colorful shorebirds
There Oughta Be More Otters; As the World Warms; Original Twittering Still Popular; Expecting to Fly
The America’s Wildlife Heritage Act aims to ensure that the government manages national forests and other public lands by making the health of ecosystems a priority.
The America’s Wildlife Heritage Act aims to ensure that the government manages national forests and other public lands by making the health of ecosystems a priority.
In a fresh start for forests, a federal court in June overturned the Bush administration’s last-ditch effort to weaken protections for wildlife on the country’s 175 national forests and grasslands.
It took more than two decades and more than a million federal dollars to bring gray wolves back from the brink in the lower 48 states.
Feeling the Heat with Jeff Corwin; Victory for California Wildlife; Throwing a Brick at the Wall
Alexandra Siess finished a hard day’s work retrieving nets used to catch and then count, measure, tag and release diamondback terrapins in the Chesapeake Bay
It’s topsy-turvy—California’s Mojave Desert—a place where sheep prefer rocky cliffs over grassy fields.
Is it possible that the red-throated loon could still tell us something about a changing climate?