Sunday, April 4, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Don’t leave your house. That’s what the voice on the radio was telling me: Don’t leave your house. The air in Salt Lake City was dangerously polluted and the state was warning us that breathing the air outside would be hazardous to our health.
Announcements like that were business as usual in my 30 years living in Salt Lake City, and for a while, it was looking like Mesquite — my home for the past six years — would suffer the same smoggy fate at the hands of the proposed Toquop coal plant.
But I knew we didn’t have to choose between abundant, affordable energy and clean air and water — we can have both. Here in Nevada we are blessed with abundant solar, wind and geothermal resources that can provide clean, reliable, homegrown energy, without polluting, without relying on others and without running out.
When plans for a coal-fired Toquop plant were pulled March 22, it was the fourth proposed coal plant taken off the drawing board in Nevada in as many years. The message was clear: Nevadans want to move beyond the dirty technologies of the past.
That’s why I was dismayed to read the next day a story in the Las Vegas Sun, “Environmentalists make plea for desert preservation,” that some environmentalists are opposing any renewable energy development in desert areas in Nevada.
I love the desert tortoise and I love the desert poppy, but there is a lot of desert in Nevada and we ought to be able to find a way to tap into our state’s vast potential for clean energy while protecting our wildlife, water and desert vistas.
Renewable energy projects clearly don’t belong in places that have special value for wildlife and recreation such as parks and wildlife refuges. And in places where it does make sense to look at renewable energy, we need to make sure projects are well-researched and well-planned, and that local folks who would be most affected get a say in the decision.
I understand that there are a lot of proposed renewable energy sites in Nevada, but not every one of them will be built. That’s an opportunity for conservationists to have a say in how clean energy development moves forward on the desert lands we cherish. We have to look at each project individually and consider the environmental costs and benefits.
Yes, there will be some disruption to land and wildlife at the sites we choose to build on, but we have to weigh that against the payoff of clean energy: less reliance on coal and other energy sources that pollute our air and water, greater energy independence and a chance to build a new industry in our state. Where we see a net benefit to our environment and energy consumers, we ought to say yes to renewable energy and work with the developers and local leaders to do it right.
Conservationists can’t be against everything. We have to be for something, and we have to speak up. Otherwise, the loudest voice we hear may be the one on the radio warning us not to leave our homes.
Michele Burkett is president of Defend Our Desert. Based in Mesquite, Defend Our Desert was formed in 2004 by local citizens concerned with the environmental and community effects of proposed coal plants in Nevada.