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Proposed legislation could prevent some Barstow-area energy projects

BARSTOW • A piece of proposed legislation that could shoot down a number of proposed solar and wind projects in the Mojave Desert is drawing mixed reactions.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,  announced that she plans to introduce legislation that would designate a corridor of former railroad land between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park as a national monument.

The exact boundaries of the proposed monument have not been publicly released, but about 600,000 acres of railroad-owned lands were purchased by or donated to the Department of Interior — much of it by the Wildland Conservancy — for conservation over the years, according to a statement from Feinstein’s office.

The Bureau of Land Management currently has 19 pending solar and wind project applications, covering a total of 42,000 acres, within the boundaries of the former railroad lands, said spokesman Steve Razo with the BLM’s California Desert District Office.

Among those applications are three by Stirling Energy Systems, Inc., which is proposing to build a three solar plants along Interstate 40 west of Ludlow. About 2,359 acres included in the three Stirling applications would fall within the boundaries of the former railroad lands, Razo said.

Stirling is still going forward with its applications for the time being, said Mickey Quillman, resources branch chief with the Barstow BLM office.

Gil Duran, a spokesman with Feinstein’s office said the proposed boundaries of the monument are still to be determined. The senator will visit the desert and meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to discuss her proposal, he said.

“The senator believes there’s plenty of room in California’s deserts for renewable energy,” he said. “... This is early in the process.”

Spokesman David Zook with San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s office said that the supervisor wants to see historic Route 66 preserved and also has concerns about the number of renewable energy projects being proposed on public lands in the area, but Mitzelfelt does not feel a national monument is the best mechanism for dealing with those issues.

Developing a plan that looks at renewable energy from a regional perspective would be preferable, he said — a process that the state of California has already embarked on, following an executive order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in November.

The supervisor is also concerned that the county has not had a chance to provide input on Feinstein’s proposal, Zook said.

David Lamfrom, a field representative with the Barstow office of the National Parks Conservation Association, said his group strongly supports Feinstein’s stance. The corridor proposed for monument designation is critical habitat for species like the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep, he said, and the NPCA would prefer to see the renewable energy projects sited on already-disturbed lands.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order in November of 2008 directing the state to work towards generating 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

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