Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rant of the Week: Emergency Solar Power Permit Act

On February 11, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced H.R. 6527, the “Emergency Solar Power Permit Act,” in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) effective freeze on approving solar project applications.A backlog of 130 pending applications currently exists dating back to 2005 without a single application being approved because BLM is waiting on Environmental Impact Statements from the applicants. The Emergency Solar Power Permit Act would waive the requirement to produce an Environmental Impact Statement in order to expedite the process and allow clean, environmentally friendly, renewable energy to begin development.

“Regulatory and political obstructionism has created this energy shortage that has lead to such high prices,” said Rohrabacher. “These bureaucratic impediments are now even damaging the possibility of fully utilizing solar energy which is the supposed darling of the environmental movement. This bill helps remove some of those regulatory roadblocks for solar energy and we need to be moving forward on all fronts to address the current energy crisis.”

According to a recent New York Times article, the BLM had “placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact.” The moratorium on accepting applications has since been lifted, however, applications are still not being approved in a timely manner.

I believe part of reason the BLM was not (and is not) processing solar energy projects because they are in the process of preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on solar development across all BLM lands: This was likely what the BLM talking about when they said they “placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact.” However, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this was also used by the Bush administration to clog up the works.

BLM prepared a Programmatic EIS on wind development in 2005 and Geothermal leasing in 2008. However, once this PEIS is finalized, I’m not sure if that would allow the BLM to perform less extensive Environmental Assessments (EAs) instead of the long and lengthy EISs. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) dictates when an EIS versus an EA should be performed and this is the crux of it: When environmental impacts are not “significant” (which is defined in NEPA and has been refined by the courts), a federal agency can prepare an EA and sign a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). However, when environmental impacts are significant, an EIS must be prepared. I didn’t know NEPA, the cornerstone of environmental laws, was “obstructionism” or a “bureaucratic impediment.”

While I support eliminating any impediments to solar development, I think we should level the playing field, not give solar projects a break compared to other projects of similar impact. For example, agencies have to prepare EISs for coal mines and natural gas/oil field development proposals, because these projects can have significant impacts. Couldn’t the same be said for a huge wind farm or several square miles of solar panels? Just one example of a significant impact from a large-scale solar project is the habitat is rendered completely unusable to wildlife, just as much as a strip mine and moreso than a gas field.

For this reason, this bill might not pass muster. We would need to change NEPA to say, “Agencies must prepare an EIS when environmental impacts are significant, unless the impacts are from solar projects.” This should be interesting to watch, especially the response from the environmental community, which advocate both for requiring extensive environmental analysis and pushing for renewable energy development.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rant of the Week: The Stimulus (aka "Republicans Stimulating my Funny Bone")

I suppose I should rant about Obama’s stimulus package. After all, this Tuesday, homeboy is coming to the CO to sign it. I like some of this spending. It’s insane that we’re behind countries like Ghana and South Korea in our infrastructure, whether it be roads and bridges, schools, or broadband and cell phone coverage. I like every penny spent on grants and incentives for energy technology. How are we supposed to compete in a world economy when half the nations in Asia and most the nations in Europe are kicking our rears in science and technology?

The assistance to the growing unemployed and poor is a must. If they’re increasing in numbers, how are we supposed to provide the same level of support as we currently do? Our county budgets are shrinking too, thus the aid money for state and local governments. How are states, counties and municipalities supposed to continue to provide basic services to their communities? How are they supposed to keep their clerks and accountants in jobs? How are they supposed to issue titles and drivers licenses? This is all called “pork” by sound bite conservatives.

I wish more money would have gone to the above items instead of the tax cuts. I wasn’t a gigantic fan of Obama’s tax cuts for the middle class anyway, and to be honest, this reeks of GOP concessions. I like the attempt at bipartisanship, but now that we see that the Republicans are going to do nothing more than obstruct, screw any more of that. Next time ram it down their throats. Call their bluff and let them filibuster. Hasn’t the last 8 years (not to mention the Reagan years) taught us trickle down is a bunch of horseshit? The rich cut benefits and let workers go while they spend money at retreats. The funniest part of this stimulus package is watching all the retarded Republicans throwing temper tantrums about "spending" and "pork" (look up the definition idiots, then tell me how much of this is pork) and ludicrous statements about how government has "never created one job." All Republicans crying about spending are 8 years too late. Are we supposed to believe that these very same politicians that turned a budget surplus into trillions of dollars in debt, you and your sorry party suddenly have the moral high ground on government spending? We haven’t forgotten that quickly.

I guess this is how the typical Republican brain works:

Bush tax cuts, proposed McCain tax cuts: GOOD
Obama/Dems pass billions in tax cuts: BAD

Billions of dollars spent on roads, bridges and schools in Iraq: GOOD
Billions of dollars spent on roads, bridges and schools in America: BAD

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Professional Rant of the Week: Open-door Bailout

Thomas Friedman argues that the centerpiece of our stimulus should be to stimulate everything that makes us smarter and attracts smart people to our shores in The Open-Door Bailout.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rant of the Week: De-listing the Gray Wolf

A short bit of background: Gray wolves were reintroduced into central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park back in the early 90s. They were given “experimental non-essential” designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the recovery states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Well, the wolves have been doing relatively well, and in 2008, the Bush administration took the critter of the Threatened and Endangered list. The state wildlife agencies of ID, WY and MT wrote management plans for the wolf. Most conservation groups think they are inadequate and allow for hunting of wolves. I’m not necessarily against very limited hunting, but I also agree these plans need some work. This issue has recently come to light because Obama’s Department of the Interior is currently looking into the possibility of reversing this and put the wolf back on the endangered species list. My position is that once adequate state management plans are in place, the wolf should be de-listed, or we risk weakening the ESA.

I've always been a big advocate of wolf reintroduction in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. As most you know, was born and raised in Salmon, Idaho, 20 miles as the crow flies from where the first gray wolves were released in the Frank Church Wilderness. When the wolf was reintroduced, recovery goals were agreed upon by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The recovery goal is 300 wolves and 30 breading pairs. This has been surpassed for a long time, and now we sit at over 1,500 wolves. Follow the law and delist the animal. I understand some people think the original recovery goals are insufficient. Certainly some science went into the development of the original recovery goals, but this is a valid debate. Additionally, this was under Bruce Babbitt’s Dept of the Interior, which had a pretty good reputation with environmental interests. However, I have little doubt that even if the recover goals were 10 times that number (3,000 wolves), environmentalists would be making the same argument that "3,000 is not enough."

Why do you think extremists like ex-representative Richard Pombo and these anti-environment politician whackos hate the Endangered Species Act and try to water it down and tear it apart? It's because of situations like this where environmental interests fight de-listing, even when species have well surpassed their recovery goals. The ESA is being used as a permanent protection measure, not a temporary measure to get species back on track, like it was intended to be. Quit moving the target. The more you abuse and take advantage of this great and important law, the more people want to eliminate it. Play by the rules and don't give them reasons to contend that we're abusing the act.