What the President's Clean Power Plan Means for Wildlife

Today, energy sector leaders and visionaries are meeting in Nevada for the eighth annual national Clean Energy Summit. Public officials, policy experts, investors, industry executives, students and eager citizens will gather to listen to and discuss America's most pressing and compelling energy and climate issues with panels of experts and innovators, teed up by President Obama himself.

You see, right now, clean energy discussions are taking center stage not just in western states like Nevada where the renewable energy sector is rapidly growing, but across the country, and for good reason. Earlier this month President Obama and the EPA unveiled a Clean Power Plan (CPP) for America, a critical part of the president's overarching Climate Action Plan. In our country's most ambitious action yet taken to combat the impacts of climate change, the CPP sets the first-ever limits on dangerous carbon emissions from power plants, gives states the opportunity to craft implementation plans tailored to their needs and provides opportunities for new jobs and lower energy costs across America.

We know that fossil-fuel generated power plants are the leading source of the carbon pollution that causes climate change and has devastating effects on human and environmental health. We also know that climate change is compounding the effects of pollution, development and habitat loss on our nation's - and world's - imperiled wildlife, from Arctic species like polar bears and walruses to amphibians around the world, as well as the songbirds that visit my backyard each spring. If we do not work now to curb the impacts of climate change on species, one in six wildlife species could face extinction in the next 75 years.

This is an outcome that is simply unacceptable. Fortunately, the CPP gives us an opportunity to come together to ensure that our children and grandchildren live in a world that is not missing turtles, frogs and polar bears, along with hundreds of other species. To successfully help turn the tide on extinction, increased investments and research in and development of renewable energy projects are key. Corporate and private investments in small scale technology like rooftop solar panels are an important part of the needed road map for this country to follow. But we also believe that substantial growth in large-scale wind, solar and geothermal projects will be essential in the transition to a more efficient clean energy economy. The challenge before us is that while some of the best opportunities for renewable energy development are on public lands, these lands are also home to many imperiled species and their habitat.

There is a right way and a wrong way to develop utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands and I have seen both take place over the last few years. For example, right now in the California desert - home to some of our country's most unique and threatened plants and animals - the Bureau of Land Management is working with the state and local communities on a multi-stakeholder effort called the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) to identify the "low conflict" places in the desert for renewable energy development, which avoid areas important for imperiled wildlife, wilderness, recreation and other public land values. This is an important process because when we don't work together to avoid serious wildlife and habitat impacts before launching renewable energy development projects, we end up with situations like the poorly located solar energy projects in the Ivanpah Valley in Nevada and California. This valley is being heavily burdened with too many large-scale renewable energy projects that have serious consequences for the sensitive species there like big horn sheep, desert tortoise and golden eagles, as well as other important land resources and values.

Defenders of Wildlife has been at the helm of forging many successful partnerships with agencies, industry and developers to advance policies and on-the-ground solutions for developing projects in a way that protects and preserves high value wildlife habitats. And we must continue to encourage responsible renewable energy that is smart from the start - planned, placed and operated in a way that does not sacrifice irreplaceable lands and wildlife resources. Looking to the future, I feel emboldened by the step America is taking with the President's CPP, and I am excited to build on the work that has already taken place to make sure our new clean energy economy works for people and imperiled wildlife alike.