Joe Biden Pledges To Protect Nevada’s Sacred Tribal Lands, Hell Yeah

Joe Biden Pledges To Protect Nevada's Sacred Tribal Lands, Hell Yeah

President Biden announced Wednesday that he would protect about 450,000 acres of land in southeast Nevada from development under the 1906 Antiquities Act, bringing the area near Avi Kwa Ami (Spirit Mountain) one step closer to becoming a national monument, a designation a dozen Native American tribes in the area have been advocating for decades. The announcement means immediate protected status for the land.

Also too, this note from the Washington Post (paywall-free gift link):

When finalized, it will probably rank as the largest act of land conservation that President Biden will undertake this term,in a spot within comfortable driving distance of Las Vegas. And although tribes have often been pressured to make concessions in the past, this marks a rare instance in which they have driven the process — bolstered by the support of environmental groups, lawmakers and the rural business community.

Biden made the announcement at yesterday’s White House Tribal Nations Summit, where he also reminded everyone that last year he’d reversed the ridiculous cuts that Donald Trump had ordered to the size of three existing national monuments.

“Look, there’sso much more, there’s so much more that we’re going to do to protect the treasured tribal lands,” he told the group of tribal leaders. “When it comes to Spirit Mountain and surrounding ridges and canyons in southern Nevada, I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today.”

“And I look forward to being able to visit Spirit Mountain and experience it with you as soon as I can,” he added.

To area tribes, Avi Kwa Ami is the spot where humanity’s ancestors emerged, so protecting the area from development has been a decades-long project. The mountain itself and nearby areas were given federal wilderness protection 20 years ago, but the new designation will cover additional territory in the corner of Nevada where the state borders Arizona and California. The new areas will connect with existing monuments and wilderness areas to protect other sacred sites as well as endangered species like the desert tortoise, plus a migratory corridor for critters like mule deer and bighorn sheep. Also habitat protection for many other just generally awesome species like bald eagles, golden eagles, Gila monsters, screech owls, and peregrine falcons.

Oh look, here is a map of the proposed national monument, showing the various wilderness, recreation, and monument areas that would connect to Avi Kwa Ame monument.

We should also point out that there appears to be a little confusion about what exactly Biden announced yesterday. A few news outlets are describing the speech as an actual declaration of the national monument, and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) tweeted out a nice thread yesterday thanking Biden for designating the national monument. But as the New York Times points out, Biden’s remarks didn’t make that formal declaration, stopping just short with his pledge of protection.

Rep. Dina Titus (D), who won reelection in the midterm election, introduced a resolution earlier this year to create the monument, and the Times says a spokesperson for Titus said she expects an actual designation will be on the way.

Also too, both the Times and the Post point out that “some” clean energy advocates are concerned that the designation may create problems for wind and solar projects, but the Times quotes an Interior Department spox who says much of the land was already off-limits to energy development because of its wilderness status.

There is one pending application for a 700-megawatt solar project in one part of the potentially designated land that has been identified as an exception from the conservation designation, according to the Interior spokeswoman.

And a California-based solar company, Avantus, has sought access to part of the land that could be included in an expanded Spirit Mountain monument in order to use existing transmission lines and access roads from a shuttered coal fired power plant in Laughlin.

The company said it supports the creation of a national monument, but that the exception it seeks would involve just 2,000 acres of the federal land out of the planned 450,000 acres. It’s a legitimate concern for future solar development, since connecting to existing grid infrastructure near shuttered fossil fuel plants is far more cost-effective than building new connections. No telling whether a carve-out will be negotiable going forward.

(Whether that one connection point works out or not, one of the biggest ongoing chokepoints in transitioning to renewables involves the clunky permitting process: there are far more proposed grid-scale wind and solar projects out there than can be currently connected to the national grid — even though renewables make up nearly all of the new generation projects. We’re going to have to figure that out.)

However, as the Times also points out,

Outside of the boundaries for the proposed national monument, the federal government has identified 9 million acres of public lands in Nevada for large-scale solar development and nearly 16.8 million acres of public lands for potential wind development.

So yes, we can probably manage to go green while protecting Native lands, huh?

[WaPo (gift link) / NYT / Honor Spirit Mountain / Vox / Image (cropped): Ken Lund, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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