The recently announced "California Desert Protection Act" would render nearly 1 million acres of Mojave Desert off limits to development, but it also contains provisions aimed at speeding the siting and permitting of renewable energy projects in the solar- and wind-rich region. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.
When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced a sweeping desert preservation bill last month, it garnered national attention for placing nearly 1 million acres of Mojave Desert off-limits to development -- -- a move that some believe would derail a dozen proposed solar-power projects.
But a close reading of the "California Desert Protection Act" reveals a nuanced piece of legislation that includes several proposals to encourage renewable energy in the Mojave Desert and across the Southwest.
Among them is a mandate that the Defense Department review several million acres of military lands in California, Arizona and Nevada, and identify suitable sites where wind farms, solar arrays and other renewable resources could be developed. The Pentagon would then conduct environmental impact statements to ensure projects move quickly through the permitting process.
The bill would also require the Bureau of Land Management, the largest federal land management agency with 253 million acres in its portfolio, to locate parcels suitable for renewable energy development, giving the agency 12 months from the date the bill is enacted to complete the task. The Forest Service, which oversees 193 million acres, must complete a similar effort in 18 months.