Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Alternative Energy and Desertification in Nevada

Ranchers hate pinon-juniper forests. That is the natural flora for much of the upland American West, but the trees get in the way of grass that ranchers want. In Nevada, a state we think of little about outside of gambling and Vegas getaways, ranchers  hold a lot of power. They want those forests gone, even though the short-term gains for ranch land are slight and the long-term effects of getting rid of those forests are localized warmer temperatures, drought, and desertification.

A Chinese biomass company wants to harvest these forests for energy. Biomass is arguably the single biggest joke within the alternative energy community. Ethanol fuel is bad, but biomass is disastrous. People think of biomass as burning your lawn clippings, but the only way to create enough fuel to make the industry work is to cut down forests strictly in order to burn them. This is a horrendous environmental policy.

Yet on BLM land that does not have the admittedly limited protection of the National Forests, this is a very real possibility. Even more than the Forest Service, BLM employees and administrators tend to act as servants for industry. Because these lands are remote, not overly spectacular, and far off the West's tourist trail, there are few outsiders willing to fight for these lands. So there's a lot of powerful interests and money in favor of clearing the land and few organized to stop them.

On top of all of this, who supports this project but one Harry Reid. 

And in an American West already hurting for water and suffering from overpopulation when compared to the available water, this is really bad news. And it's the kind of small environmental disaster that doesn't get reported but has long-term implications that affect all of us.