Zinke Makes Bird-Brained Comments About Solar Energy On Public Land

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claims he’s not a fossil fuel puppet. “People ask me, ‘am I a fossil fuel guy?’ ” he says. “I’m like, ‘no, I’m all the above.’ ” But when it comes to solar energy — a critical component of ‘all of the above’ —  and the best use of public lands, his logic is… for the birds.

As Dino Grandoni points out at the Washington Post’s Energy 202 blog, a whole lot of what Zinke says doesn’t make much sense. He seriously says things like “Producing energy domestically and reasonable regulation is far better than watching it being produced overseas with no regulation.” (Have you noticed a worrisome trend of US utilities outsourcing electric generation to coal plants in China, or sweatshop nuclear reactors in Bangladesh? Must be flying under my radar.)

And then there are his comments dissing the solar towers at the Ivanpah concentrated solar plant on the California/Nevada border. “If you’ve been outside of Las Vegas and looked at that solar field, it kind of looks like a scene from Mad Max,” Zinke told the US Chamber of Commerce during a recent speech. “Is that the future of having these three or four 80-foot towers with reflector cells the size of garage doors where it makes this cone, this sphere of death, so as birds go through it they get zapped?”

→ More: “Bird-Killing Solar” Falls Short of Foes’ Kill-Rate Hopes

Zinke is worried about the poor birds. But he just loves open-pit coal mines, which to be fair don’t look like Mad Max so much as they look like Lord of the Rings — the apocalyptic parts. He’s scrapped an Obama plan for a moratorium of new coal leases on public lands, and is in the process of turning National Monument lands into even more National Mordors.

→ More: Trump admin won’t eliminate national monuments (but Bears Ears still on the chopping block)

Ivanpah solar vs Powder River coal. Which one is the best use of public lands?
Ivanpah solar vs Powder River coal. Which one is the best use of public lands?

Even crazier, though, is what he spewed during his Clean Energy Week speech, which The Post‘s Grandoni says left solar energy advocates scratching their heads.

In the comments, Zinke seemed suggested [sic] that utility-scale solar projects were a poor use of publicly owned land — and that solar companies should look away from Interior’s land and toward the roofs of homes and businesses for solar panel space instead.

“If I see solar cells out on land, that land is no longer useful for anything else but energy, but there’s a lot of roofs when you fly over,” Zinke said, according to Politico. “And I think the greatest opportunity, quite frankly, for the solar industry is look at all the roofs in America.”

Grandoni goes on to note that under Obama, the Interior Department “approved 60 utility-scale renewable energy projects that totaled 15,500 megawatts of capacity. A majority — 36 — of those projects were solar.” Under Zinke, Interior has approved — only one project.

Yes, it’s true that solar kills birds. Wind turbines do as well, which is a favorite talking point of fossil-fuel backers. But it’s also true that the house cats of Ivanpah valley probably kill more birds than the Ivanpah solar installation. (Nationally, house cats kill between 1 and 3 billion birds a year.)

And when it comes to the health of those all-important birds, Zinke is highly selective – he’s in the process of trashing the Obama-era protection for the endangered Sage Grouse. That bi-partisan agreement was the result of 10 years of negotiations between states, environmental groups, ranchers, and mining companies. But hey, a bunch of Zinke’s buddies stand to make a few bucks, so who gives a hoot about a few stupid birds?

Zinke has his own problems with winging from place to place… along with high-flying colleagues Tom Price and Scott Pruitt, Zinke has come under fire for blowing taxpayer dollars on private jets rather than taking cheap commercial flights. While he’s not in the same league as Tom Price — the HHS Secretary agreed to pay back $52,000 of the more than a million dollars he’s blown on pricey flights — Politico reports that Zinke spent $12,375 on a charter to take him home to Montana from Las Vegas. And that’s just what we know about so far.

(Coal mining photo of Powder River Basin in Wyoming by Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images. Ivanpah solar installation photo by US Department of Energy.)

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Jeremy Bloom

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.

Jeremy Bloom has 40 posts and counting. See all posts by Jeremy Bloom