Grassroots Environmentalists Break with Larger Groups Funded by Renewable Industry

Published February 8, 2013

Grassroots environmentalists are increasingly calling out large, prominent activist groups for selling out to corporate donors from the renewable energy industry. Nowhere is the split between corporate-type “Big Green” groups and grassroots “Little Green” groups more apparent than in southeastern California, where Big Green activist groups are defying local environmentalists and supporting the destruction of habitat necessary for threatened desert tortoises.

Protecting Wildlife from ‘Big Green’

California environmentalist Sean G. produces the Mojave Desert Blog, which argues for action against climate change, presents arguments for reducing coal power generation, and chronicles the natural beauty of the Mojave Desert. 

“I spend my time reading and writing about the place where I grew up—the Mojave Desert,” Sean G. explains on his website.

While Sean G.’s environmentalist credentials are indisputable, he refuses to march in lockstep with large, corporate environmental activist groups without first subjecting their positions to reason and logic. In the Mojave Desert that he calls home, this means fighting for endangered and threatened plant and animal species disrupted and destroyed by deep-pocket solar energy companies subsidized by state and national taxpayer money.

Sean G. points out the U.S. Bureau of Land Management frequently ignores or underestimates damage to native ecosystems when approving solar power permit applications. For example, Sean G. explains, BLM estimated BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power project would displace 34 desert tortoises ostensibly protected by the Endangered Species Act. Documents submitted to the California Energy Committee showed the project displaced at least 340 desert tortoises from the 5.6 mile construction area and required the handling of many more tortoises outside the construction area.

Costly Cumulative Impacts

Moreover, the cumulative environmental impact of BLM approving so many solar power projects in the Ivanpah Valley is greater than the sum of each solar power project. 

Quoting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) study of wildlife in the Ivanpah Valley, Sean G. writes, “The area that lies between the Silver State North Project and the Lucy Gray Mountains is the most visible linkage between the northern and southern portions of the Ivanpah Valley. It is thought that severing this corridor would effectively isolate the northern portion of the valley from the southern by forcing tortoises to move through passes to the east side of the Lucy Gray Mountains.”

Addressing the U.S Department of the Interior rushing to approve a recently proposed Silver State South solar power project in the Ivanpah Valley, Sean G. explains the significance of multiple solar power projects restricting or eliminating open space corridors. “BLM cut out some of the most important lands necessary to maintain tortoise connectivity on desert wildlands between Primm and the Lucy Gray Mountains in order to accommodate the solar project, arguably gutting the ACEC [Area of Critical Environmental Concern] nomination of one of the key reasons for its implementation. If the solar project is approved, the desert tortoise corridor could be reduced from approximately two miles down to less than two-thirds of a mile. The USFWS estimates that tortoises need a corridor about 1.4 miles wide to maintain connectivity,” Sean G. wrote.

Prominent Activist Groups Guilty

Sean G. explicitly named the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity as championing the destruction of key habitat for threatened desert tortoises.

“The silence from these conservation groups is tantamount to complicity in what is a significant ecological disaster in the Mojave Dersert,” wrote Sean G. 

“While some conservation groups are arguing at the national level that solar and wind projects should be located on already-disturbed lands and rooftops, so far only smaller groups, such as Basin and Range Watch and Western Watersheds, have voiced opposition to ill-sited projects in the Ivanpah Valley,” Sean G. explained.

Environmentalists criticized the Sierra Club after investigative journalists learned the organization had accepted $26 million from natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy to launch attacks on coal power. The Sierra Club and other corporate-style environmental activist groups had long opposed natural gas production, but the Sierra Club softened its criticisms while receiving Chesapeake Energy money.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.