Activists fear renewable energy sources endanger biodiversity

Environmentalists are concerned about a new danger to biodiversity: renewable energy. Cleaner energy sources are essential in the fight against climate change, but some scientists say more should be done to preserve pristine desert environments.


(Photo: Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)-

If it hadn’t been growing in lithium-rich soil, a small Nevada wildflower known as Tiehm’s buckwheat might have gone undiscovered. As it stands, that could be his undoing.

However, Tiehm buckwheat is rarer than lithium. It only grows on about 10 acres of land at Rhyolite Ridge in southern Nevada, also the site of one of the new lithium mines.

“One individual on a bulldozer could wipe it out in a day,” says Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director of the Center for Biological Diversity and one of the flower’s strongest supporters.

He and other conservationists view the flower and mine as symptomatic of a broader and worrying trend: attempts to solve two environmental crises – the rapid increase in climate on the one hand and the incredible increase in extinctions on the other – are increasingly contradictory; they argue.

Renewable Energy Impacts

The renewable energy revolution affects landscapes across the country, not just in the desert. Solar and wind power generation in the United States has doubled over the past decade. Experts believe this is just the beginning of what we need to do to move away from fossil fuels and prevent the worst effects of climate change. Nevada wants to acquire 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, as part of the Biden administration’s goal to fully decarbonize the economy by 2050.

The result, some activists say, is a rush for renewable energy that threatens endangered species and pristine desert habitats.

Also read: New study: To fight climate change, we need to stop fossil fuel production

Environmental harm

Renewable energy

(Photo: Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Wetlands and grasslands have long been considered worthless, with swamps being drained for construction and grasslands being plowed to grow crops. Some conservationists believe history is repeating itself in mostly undeveloped desert valleys rich in sunlight, lithium-rich soils and geothermal hotspots.

Donnelly claims he has not seen a complete list of all species threatened by renewable energy development. He does, however, keep an informal list of patients in Nevada. The United States considers several of them to be endangered. Others, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), are not or are not yet. They are often unknown.

Tiehm buckwheat, Tecopa bird’s beak (an annual), Railroad Valley springfish, Railroad Valley toad, Kings River pyrg (a small snail), and Ash Meadows lady tresses are all threatened by lithium mining, according to Donnelly (an orchid).

The desert tortoise, three-horned milk-vetch, and white-margined barb’s tongue are all threatened by solar energy (one flower).

Dixie Valley Toad, Dixie Valley Pyrg, Long Valley Speckled Dace (a small fish), Steambuckwheat, Fish Lake Valley Tui Chub (another small fish ) and the bleached skipper are among the species dependent on geothermal energy (a butterfly).

“There is virtually little information on these species in many cases – they are all quite rare and enigmatic,” adds Donnelly. “However, Nevada faces a possible renewable energy extinction problem, and these small organisms and plants are at the forefront.”

While ecosystems have been constantly threatened by cattle grazing and gold mining activities, he says the growth of renewable energy is the latest and greatest. growing concern.

The United States controls just under half of the land in 11 western states, including 80% of the territory of Nevada, controlled mainly by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM designated 17 sites in six western states as BLM Solar Energy Zones in 2012, citing them as the best places to build a solar installation. Nevada has five locations.


According to Lee Walston, a US Forest Service ecologist, the BLM ignored critical species habitats when identifying locations. Argonne National Laboratory is part of the Department of Energy. BLM experts worked with Argonne scientists to map their solar energy zones and develop environmental impact statements.

However, some companies request authorizations outside these areas. “There are a variety of motivations for uses outside of solar power zones,” says Heidi Hartmann, an energy policy expert at Argonne who works with Walston. She cites the proximity of power lines or roadways as grounds for requesting an out-of-zone permit.

The BLM said in an email that it grants permits under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which requires public and environmental organizations to submit comments during open comment periods.

Related Article: Experts Say Renewable Energy Sources Are Not Enough to Solve Europe’s Energy Crisis

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