The deserts of the American Southwest have come under a new assault in the last decade. The few, fragmented areas of these austere, rugged, yet delicate landscapes that had managed to survive relatively intact from mining, ranching, military use (including nuclear tests), urban encroachment and motorized recreation, are now being targeted for the development of large-scale “green” energy projects, many of them on public lands.
After Obama’s election in 2008, a raft of federal incentives including grants, loan guarantees and tax breaks were offered for renewable energy with the ostensible purpose of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. This was greeted by cheers from many environmentalists, but as has been characteristic of Obama’s administration, the hope turned out to be hype. Big corporations have been the beneficiaries and the environment is still the big loser.
Basin & Range Watch is a non-profit that operates out of Beatty, Nevada, in the Mojave Desert. Their mission is to “conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands” there. Central to this mission is opposing the many large-scale solar and wind projects that have been proposed in the area, a number of which have been built, all with deleterious consequences. In these efforts, Basin & Range Watch has sometimes found themselves at odds not just with big corporations and big government but also with big environmental organizations, because some of the latter have gotten cozy with the corporations and the state.
I first heard of Basin & Range Watch a year ago while living in Joshua Tree, California, where I became aware of local opposition to large-scale renewable projects by people there who loved the desert ecosystems and didn’t want to see them destroyed. Through the Basin & Range Watch website I learned more about the issues, which include threats to wildlife habitat, endangered species, aquifers, recreation areas and scenic vistas, as well as to individual or community-level efforts to build small-scale renewable energy projects. So when I found myself in Mojave Desert again this year, I contacted them to see if we could meet up. They readily agreed.