May 22, 2013

The tortoise tax

Steve Williams, Opinion Page Editor

Steve Williams, Opinion Page Editor
Victorville Daily Press

If you know anything at all about Nipton, you know that for years it had the most lottery ticket sales in the state. That’s because it was the town nearest Primm and Las Vegas, and thus the most accessible place for many Nevadans to purchase tickets.

But from Nipton, on the northern edge of the Mojave National Preserve, those who visited to purchase tickets could look across 15 miles of dry lake bed and desert emptiness and see Brightsource’s huge new solar thermal plant, southwest of Primm. It doesn’t look very big from Nipton, though. It looks tiny against the mountains beyond, and tinier still when compared with the thousands of square miles contained in the Preserve.

But the plant sits on land that is prime habitat for the desert tortoise. So Brightsource, Google and NRG, the investors, have been fighting attempts by environmentalists to first bar the plant from being built, and then keep it from operating.

In a May 15 piece noting the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, two writers for PERC (Property and Environment and Research Center), Laurie Higgins and David Currie detail just how much it’s cost the companies and taxpayers to fight the enviros. To date, investors have allocated $56 million — and have already spent more than $130,000 per animal — to care for and relocate the species.

When the permit for the plant was finally issued after years of negotiations, it was estimated that 150 desert tortoises lived within the plant’s footprint. But environmentalists, citing more recent “studies,” now estimate that 750 are there. If 750 tortoises are on that land, there must be, oh, 20,000 of the creatures between the plant and Nipton. At $130,000 per, the desert tortoise population in the area is worth about $2.6 billion.

Higgins and Currie write that among creatures protected by the ESA, “the tortoise is one of the top recipients of tax dollars ... with little success in advancing conservation goals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the tortoise received nearly $190 million in tax-dollar support from 1996 to 2009, yet species population increased negligibly.” Or zero.

They also note that the plant received $1.6 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to help create green jobs and energy. So, they write, “At the end of the day, we may have no tortoise, no green power, and no money.”

We in the Victor Valley know about the desert tortoise. On the “endangered” list, its presence has created endless delays in building everything from roads to freeway overpasses to the VVI power plant at Southern California International Airport. To what end? To make environmentalists feel good about themselves, apparently. Certainly their efforts have done nothing to increase the tortoise population.

Our only hope is that one of these years, environmentalists will begin using common sense to reach their goals. In the meantime, they’re just creating unnecessary economic woes, even to the extent of stubbornly keeping a “green” plant from generating electricity. Typically, that makes no sense at all.