Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Dianne Feinstein
Posted on 2015-02-09
FEINSTEIN (for herself and Mrs. Boxer):
S. 414. A bill to proide for conservation, enhanced recreation
opportunities, and development of renewable energy in the California
Desert Conservation Area, and for other purposes; to the Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, today I am introducing the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, a piece of legislation that serves as an update to the historic California Desert Protection Act of 1994.
This bill reflects our attempt to achieve consensus among the various uses of desert land and the many stakeholders involved. This bill is bipartisan and it charts a commonsense path forward for the California desert.
It protects additional desert land. It helps manage my State's natural resources. It balances competing interests. It includes provisions on recreation and renewable energy development.
Overall, it ensures that the California desert will remain what it is today: a true American treasure.
This bill has been a long time in the making.
Only three months after I was sworn in as Senator, in January 1993, I introduced the Desert Protection Act. I picked up where my predecessors left off, and President Clinton signed the bill into law in October 1994.
This law was the largest land conservation designation in the continental United States: It protected or increased existing protection for 9.6 million acres of desert land.
It established the iconic national parks of Joshua Tree and Death Valley, as well as the Mojave National Preserve.
It helped save habitats for endangered species.
It continues to attract millions of tourists to southern California-- a boon for the economy.
It has ensured that the beautiful landscapes will be enjoyed for generations.
I recently visited the desert to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of that legislation becoming law. I was once again reminded how stunning the special land is. Simply put, it is an icon of the American West.
I became even more convinced: now is the time to do even more.
This is why I am introducing new legislation--to build upon the legacy of 1994.
The bill I am introducing today has a simple goal: to help manage California's desert resources with a well-planned approach that balances conservation, recreation, energy production and other needs.
This bill is first and foremost a bipartisan bill. It brings so many groups together: Environmental groups; State and local governments; the off-road community; cattle ranchers; mining interests; the Defense Department; energy companies; California's public utility companies; and many others.
To account for all the uses of the desert, this whole effort was based on [[Page S861]] an attempt to find consensus. We have worked very hard over the years to build that consensus.
We have consulted these stakeholders over the past 6 years. We have had thousands of hours of discussions. They have provided invaluable input and I am grateful for all of them coming to the table.
The cornerstone of the legislation is the creation of two new national monuments: First is the Mojave Trails National Monument, which would encompass 965,000 acres. Of that, 196,000 acres is Caetellus lands, the areas acquired or donated to the Federal Government between 1999 and 2004 with the purpose of conserving land for the American public.
It should be noted that this donated land, which stretches from the Mexican border to San Bernardino county, was the largest land donation to the U.S. Government in the continental United States. But recently, the aim to conserve it was threatened by the development of some solar energy projects. That is why this bill is necessary: to ensure that the intention of those generous donors, to protect this land in perpetuity, is actually realized.
The second monument designation is the Sand to Snow National Monument. This would be made up of 135,000 acres of land from the desert floor in the Coachella Valley to the top of Mount San Gorgonio.
The Mojave Trails National Monument is essential as it contains important wildlife corridors and habitats. The Sand to Snow National Monument, likewise, would be one of the most environmentally diverse monuments in the country, including habitat for 240 species of migrating and breeding birds.
The bill has many other conservation provisions including: designating six BLM wilderness areas, covering 250,000 acres of land, designating 77 miles along 4 waterways as Wild and Scenic River; adding land to the Death Valley National Park, 39,000 acres, Mojave National Preserve, 22,000 acres, and Joshua Tree National Park, 4,500 acres.
Conserving pristine desert land such as this is most definitely in the interests of our country. The California desert is a very special place and it deserves to stay that way.
The bill also designates five existing BLM Off-Highway Vehicle Areas, covering approximately 142,000 acres of desert, as permanent Off- Highway Vehicle, OHV, recreation areas.
As has been stated, the desert has many uses, and motorists have long used the area for recreation. These provisions give off-highway enthusiasts the certainty they need. Their use of the desert will be protected as much as conservation areas are.
In fact, in this regard we have had success in recent years. Congressman Paul Cook and I brokered an agreement for the mixed use of Johnson Valley, which was the subject of debate between the Marine Corps and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. We brought the parties together and reached a compromise. We made clear what land was for off-roading, what land was for Marine Corps training only and what land was to be shared.
This model of compromise should be instructive. When the parties come together, as they have in the case of this bill, we can achieve an equitable and fair distribution of the land.
Another use of the desert land that we must take into account is renewable energy.
Let me be clear: developing cleaner energy is important for California's economy and for our efforts to fight global warming.
But I also feel strongly that we must be very careful where these facilities are located.
Balancing conservation, development and other uses is possible, we just need to come up with the right solutions. Thankfully, some of these compromises are already in place.
In April 2009 there were 28 solar and wind energy proposals on lands proposed to be included in the Mojave Trails National Monument, including sites on former Catellus lands intended for permanent conservation.
I visited some of those sites at the time, including one particularly beautiful area known as the Broadwell Valley, where thousands of acres of pristine lands were proposed for development. Seeing it first hand, I quickly came to the conclusion that those lands were simply not the right place for renewable energy development.
Since then, 26 of the 28 applications have been withdrawn. So what happened in the nearly 6 years since then? First, the Energy and Interior Departments developed new solar energy zones. These zones allow projects to be developed on lands least likely to harm plant and wildlife species, and allow projects to be completed faster and with fewer conflicts. This is a smart compromise.
Second, California has worked closely with Federal agencies to develop the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. This blueprint will help identify pristine lands that warrant protection and direct energy projects elsewhere.
Today, none of the land proposed for renewable development or transmission as part of these initiatives conflicts with the conservation proposed in this bill.
This is a fair balancing of priorities, and I think it provides a clear path forward.
The bill I am introducing also takes additional action to help promote responsible renewable energy development.
Specifically, the bill requires the Interior Department to exchange approximately 370,000 acres of small, isolated parcels of State land for Federal land. By swapping state land that is often surrounded by wilderness and national parks for other federal land, these exchanges will provide California with sites for renewable energy production, recreation or other uses.
I strongly urge my colleagues to take a good look at this legislation. I hope they understand that the many stakeholders involved have made their voices heard. The text of this legislation represents a consensus effort.
Most importantly, I hope they recognize the simple fact that desert conservation has never been a partisan issue.
Over the years, legislators have come together across party lines to preserve this great piece of land.
Given our past success, I am hopeful this Congress will take this legislation up and move it forward. It is the right thing to do, and the California desert needs it.
______ By Mr. ALEXANDER (for himself, Mr. Enzi, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Blunt, Mr. Cornyn, Mr. Hatch, Mr. Isakson, Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Burr, Mr. Sessions, Mr. Risch, Mr. Perdue, Mr. Coats, Mr. Scott, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Kirk, Mr. Barrasso, Mr. Thune, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Boozman, Mr. Corker, Mr. Flake, Mr. Cassidy, Mr. Heller, Mr. Wicker, Mr. Shelby, Ms. Collins, Mr. Paul, Mr. Cotton, Mrs. Capito, Mr. Lankford, Mr. Vitter, Mr. McCain, Mr. Hoeven, Mr. Moran, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Graham, Mr. Inhofe, Mr. Grassley, Mr. Cochran, Mr. Gardner, Mrs. Ernst, Mr. Daines, Mrs. Fischer, and Mr. Cruz): S.J. Res. 8. A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the National Labor Relations Board relating to representation case procedures; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.