Increasing the nation's use of wind and solar power has been seen as an ideal way to protect the environment against pollution, oil spills, and nuclear waste. Now, however, fears are rising that the pressure to quickly ramp up large-scale production of alternative energy may in itself become a threat to fragile ecosystems.
That is the concern of Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA, who announced last week that she intends to introduce legislation to declare part of the Mojave Desert a national monument, closed to further development.
The area in question is a 500,000 acre parcel, once owned by the railroads and known as the former Catellus lands, which conservationists acquired between 1999 and 2004 and handed over to the federal government.
The Bureau of Land Management has made the land available for any purpose except mining. Fourteen solar energy projects and five wind energy projects have now submitted applications to build there, though all the applications are years away from being approved.
"This is unacceptable," Feinstein wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "I urge you to direct the BLM to suspend any further consideration of leases to develop former railroad lands for renewable energy or for any other purpose."