Martin Collins, Regional Planner with British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Commission defends fracking as beneficial to livestock and farming.

Sites in the US are known to use as many as 750 chemical additives, many of which are carcinogens

Written by Robert Lundahl, Produced by Robert Lundahl. Originally published in

Part III of The ECOReport/planet rl a Earth Day Investigative Special Report on the Water/Energy Nexus.

Martin Collins, Executive Director of the Agricultural Lands Commission was surprisingly talkative, for someone directly answerable to British Columbia’s Cabinet. Though his superiors, the Chair and six Vice Chairs of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), were all appointed by Cabinet or the Ministry of Agriculture, the ALC ostensibly operates as an independent tribunal.

According to the ALC Annual Report 2009/10 the mission of the ALC is as follows: The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) is the provincial agency responsible for administering the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a provincial land use zone for agriculture. The purposes of the ALC as set out in legislation are:
(a) to preserve agricultural land;
(b) to encourage farming on agricultural land in collaboration with other communities of interest;
and (c) to encourage local governments, First Nations, the government and its agents to enable and accommodate farm use of agricultural land and uses compatible with agriculture in their plans, bylaws and policies.

But this “independence” is convenient for his superiors. Collins was set up, as was the ALC, in a remarkable “responsibility dodge” under the most dire of circumstances, following revelations of the severity of the California drought.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson recently informed the ECOreport that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) makes the decisions regarding land zoned for agricultural use. “The ALC is an administrative tribunal – arm’s length from government – and government does not interfere in that independent decision-making process.” He did not mention the fact two weeks prior to our interview, the Cabinet of British Columbia removed land from the ALC — and from agricultural use — for the Site C Dam flooding. Collins said it wasn’t the only time, it had happened three times, in fact, that ALC decisions were intercepted or overridden by the Provincial government.

In his “day job,” Collins is the Regional Planner for the Okanagan, Interior and Northeast regions. Everything about the self professed “paper pusher’s” voice and mannerisms, suggests he would like to be transparent, but Collins is caught in a closing vice between disingenuous government officials practicing a unique and charm-free version of Canadian “double speak,” and the world’s energy producers, hell-bent on fracking British Columbia’s last best agricultural resources and opportunities for food security.

Government officials don’t much care if Collins is squeezed by the avarice of deception on one side and “sector collapse” on the other, as the North American economy spills millions of people into potential deprivation. No water, no food.

Legitimate Issues

The debate over liquid natural gas and fracking practices is ongoing throughout much of North America. The headlines tell the story: “Dead Calves and Hairless Puppies” from Pennsylvania, “Fracking with Our Food” from New York, and from BC, “Toxic Fracking Waste, Illegally Dumped into BC Water Treatment System.”

Dr Allan Hoffman, a former Senior Analyst with the US Department of Energy, believes that with proper regulation and enforcement the number of incidents COULD be reduced to an “acceptable” level. He also admits this is not being done. And what level of toxic compounds, carcinogenic in parts per million (ppm) and parts per billion (ppb), would be “acceptable?”.

Think dioxin, agent orange, DDT. Shouldn’t we let history be our guide? Now it’s Benzine, Acetone, Ammonia, Formaldehyde, Hydrochloric Acid.

Industry and government have only belatedly protected citizens in the past, and the Christy Clark government is giving a good run at becoming the worst and most offensive betrayer of public confidence in the history of the North American continent. Even Nixon didn’t mess with our food. This administration, in response to the California drought, the astonishing undeniable evidence of which is virtually NO SNOWPACK, who, in a province just up the freeway, where Safeway trucks drop their bounty in Vancouver warehouses, and which will shortly produce only 5 percent of it’s food, decides to frack and flood its last best agricultural lands. Where are the criminal indictments?

This kind of analysis does not appear to be taking place within the BC government. Premier Clark has been described as a cheerleader for the liquid natural gas (fracking) industry.

Thus it is refreshing to hear Collins say, “There’s a tension between the Ag(ricultural) industry and Oil and Gas extraction.

But Collins then turns about face faster than a “Whirling Dervish. He continues, “but they also compliment each other. Some farmers make incomes not only from having installations on their property, they actually work for the Oil and Gas industry.”

Continuing Medical Education (CME) Activity Jointly Sponsored by Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy and the Medical Society of the State of New York (Below).

That’s reassuring. The future of health, safety and food security in British Columbia is in the hands of farmers who work for the Oil and Gas industry.

Collins listed the “legitimate issues.” Gas operations disrupt field patterns and their are issues of access to fields. There is an issue of animal health sometimes. Really? Like “Dead Calves and Hairless Puppies?” Pass the lettuce, please.

Photo Credit: A fracking wastewater storage site located on the Farrell Creek road between Fort St John and Hudson’s Hope, BC. Note the “no smoking” sign! – Credit: Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee.

“Industry spokespeople are quick to point out that hydraulic fracturing has been around for years. Fracking – some prefer to call it “fracing” – was first practiced in Canada in the 1950s and decades earlier in the US. Over the past 20 years, however, something entirely new has become the norm: “Multistage, horizontal fracking” using a cocktail of chemicals to flush out stubborn oil and gas deposits.

… All this drilling and fracking generates lots of noise and occasionally earth tremors. Most critically, before a fracked well can enter production, the millions of liters of chemical-laced fluid pumped into it – now contaminated with a host of minerals (some possibly radioactive) – must then be flushed out and discarded. “Produced water” is disposed of in a variety of ways. Alberta farmers are paid to have frack fluids and muds spread on their fields. Some allege that waste frack fluids are spread on public roads.

-David Kattenburg, February 6, 2014, for Deutsche Welle. From Fracking Canada.

“I’m not sure that it is proven, as far as I’m aware it isn’t, but there are issues about well contamination. Water well contamination by oil and gas drilling is a huge issue,” said Collins.

He added that the “digging of ponds through-out the region,” to capture surface water for fracturing, is a bigger issue right now.

Surprisingly, there are no regulations, Collins says, regarding the proximity of wells, up to 20 on a pad, and open ponds for water catchment — ponds servicing wells with fresh water, but also potentially livestock and irrigation. With trucks coming and going, removing “process water” laden with chemicals from wells, the potential is there, he admits, for spillage, airborne transfer, and soils contamination and transfer. The potential, some say the likelihood, for contamination exists. And with farmers minding the water quality, farmers working for the Oil and Gas industry, there is a built-in structural conflict of interest. But he says there is no proof because there are no baseline studies.

In a recent interview pertaining to Maryland’s draft Natural Gas/Fracking legislation, a spokesperson from the Center for Effective Government said it is almost impossible to prove, or disprove, fracking related activities are contaminating water supplies unless there is sufficient groundwater data prior to fracking. Maryland’s draft regulations called for two years of data; BC does not ask for groundwater data prior to fracking. When there is no proof, it is easy, convenient and profitable, particularly for the Christy Clark administration, to suggest there is no problem.

Who can blame Collins for diving under his desk? His superiors in the Provincial government put the ALC in an impossible spot. How can he serve two masters, the oil and gas industry, and the health of farmers, farm families, children, and consumers of agricultural products grown on oil and gas producing farms.

He is in an impossible spot. “There are some other issues that are popping up, but there are also some benefits. Surface water capture helps livestock in the long term and could lead to the possibility of irrigation.”

According to Collins’ analysis, livestock would potentially be drinking water containing pervasive fracking chemicals, delivered by air, by spillage, or by ground seepage, or simply by dumping. Therefore, it would logically follow that people might well eat steak, and pork, and chicken, whose fatty tissues bio-accumulate these chemicals. But this, according to Collins and his bosses in the Christy Clark administration, who of course remain at “arms-length” from the Agricultural Lands Commission, is a “benefit.”

Clearly from the vantage point of a writer in California, we’ve “lost Canada” to the petroleum industry. Welcome to the “New Normal.”

In the United States, about 750 compounds have been listed as additives for hydraulic fracturing, in a report to the US Congress in 2011, after originally being kept secret for “commercial reasons”.

Below is a link to a partial list of the chemical constituents in additives that are used or have been used in fracturing operations, as based on the report of the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation. Some are known to be carcinogenic. The list, which at first glance would seem to include every toxic chemical known to man, is here.

The list of disclosed ingredients used in British Columbian sites,, is shorter and not exhaustive.

“Frackers are only obliged to monitor their gaseous waste stream for hydrogen sulfide and small hydrocarbons like methane, ethane and propane. The more toxic “BTEXs” – benzene, toluene, xylene and their aldehydes – go unreported,” according to frackingcanada.

Some wells do report formaldehydes and, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

“Potential cancer risks from formaldehyde have received substantial attention. In 1996 and again in 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization concluded that formaldehyde was a human carcinogen. The primary evidence supporting this conclusion was increases in cancer in workers exposed to formaldehyde concentrations exceeding the concentrations present in most non-occupational indoor environments.”

Collins continues, “It provides a second income to certain farmers. There may be 50 to 70 large farmers in the region and they maybe see oil and gas income as a subsidiary, or smaller, part of their income. Whereas the guy who has a quarter section might have a couple of well sites on it that provide him with $10,000 a year and he has a job somewhere else.”

Temporary Use, Albeit Relatively Long Term

Photo Credit: In areas where shale-drilling/hydraulic fracturing is heavy, a dense web of roads, pipelines and well pads turn continuous forests and grasslands into fragmented islands. from Simon Fraser University via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

“In the long run the Commission, our agency, perceives the oil and gas industry to be a temporary use, albeit relatively long term. We have sense that this is a long term use, but its not permanent. We seek to ensure that whenever installations are put that there is a possibility, and probability, of their being returned to agricultural use.”

Some people question whether a twenty acre gravel pad for multi-well heads, on a twenty well site, will ever be reclaimed for agricultural use.

Quite the optimist, now, Collins responds. “Well, the Oil and Gas industry say that they will and we anticipate that’s what will happen.” .

He said there are already wells that have “gone dry and been reclaimed by farms.” That’s after likely flooding them with Benzene, Hydrochloric Acid, and formaldehydes.

There are farmers “who are less inclined to be supportive” of the gas industry and people “who do not farm much that really like the income,” said Collins.

Apparently the Christy Clark government and the energy industry do as well, well enough to potentially poison the countryside and jeopardize the health of BC citizens in what has to be one of the darkest periods in the history of Canada.

Photo at Top of Page: Fracking site as seen from the air, near Fort St. John, BC. – Credit: Jeremy Sean Williams, WiIderness Committee.

Doublespeak on Government Policy Follows California Drought Revelations

Written By Roy L Hales and Robert Lundahl. Originally published in TheECOreport.

Part II of The ECOReport Earth Day Investigative Special Report on the Water/Energy Nexus.

In addition to being one of the province’s most promising agricultural areas, the Peace River Valley sits on the Montney shale formation and is location of the proposed Site C Dam. This is “double trouble” for agriculture in British Columbia, as not only has the area been proposed to be flooded, but it is now flooded with speculators and energy companies wishing to frack the life out of the place before it is.

With the revelations of the severity of California’s drought coming at Canadians a mile a minute, uncertain pressures on the food supply from Canada’s trading partners in an ever drier California stand starkly in opposition to energy profiteering and collusion by the Provincial government and the Cabinet. Amid predictions of $7 heads of broccoli on the horizon, the government acted, but it acted not to protect the food security of Canadians, but to protect the pocketbooks of energy companies.

In a deft deployment of “finger pointing,” a Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson recently informed the ECOreport that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) makes the decisions regarding land zoned for agricultural use . “The ALC is an administrative tribunal – arm’s length from government – and government does not interfere in that independent decision-making process.” He did not mention the fact two weeks prior to our interview, the Cabinet of British Columbia removed land from the ALC — and from agricultural use — for the Site C Dam flooding.

Close to 4000 Hectares (9900 Acres) Were Transferred

Map 1 of Lands Excluded from the ALR

All in all, close to 4000 hectares were transferred out of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

There is nothing illegal about this transaction. There are clauses within the ALC Act that provide the government with the needed power and leverage. One bears the appropriate title “Oil and Gas Commission Delegation.” The ALC can “delegate” its decision making authority to an “authority” – which is defined as “an agent of government, a public body or public officer” with whom the ALC has an agreement.” We do not yet know which clause Christy Clark’s cabinet used to justify their action. Perhaps Clark wishes to avoid the brown stain of loamy mud upon her knees in favor of the “green” of hydropower development on a massive scale.

Government Interventions Are Rare

According to Martin Collins, the Agricultural Land Commission’s Regional Planner for the Northeast, cabinet government interventions are rare and “the latest OIC (Order In Council) was to help facilitate the Site C Dam and it’s several thousand hectares.”

Collins suggested TheECOreport contact the Ministry of Agriculture for further details.

“The province did this. The ALC did not do this. We don’t have the information about OICs, which are cabinet decisions. That source doesn’t come to us. We know about as much as anybody else does. We have to go and ask the Ministry of Agriculture about the specifics which hold. We don’t have details about it because we weren’t the decision maker,” he said, figuratively diving under his desk.

Two BC cabinet ministers, Steve Thomson, and Michelle Stilwell, signed Order in Council #148.

The Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia signed the OIC into effect on April 8, 2014.
NDP Statement

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAMzAAAAJDEyNThkODQ5LTc4NmUtNDhiNC1hNTA2LWJmYjIxNTU3ZTNmMQLana Popham, the New Democrat Opposition spokesperson for Agriculture and Food, issued a statement saying , “A couple weeks ago we saw the BC Liberals exclude, by Order In Council, almost 4000 hectares of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve in the Peace River Valley. They overrode a quasi-judicial board, the ALC, which is independent of government, without a mention to the public. ”

(This is not the first time Clark’s Government has utilized this type of tactic. They approved a twenty-fold expansion of the Texada Island coal terminal without notifying local residents. An amendment to the Parks Act made it possible for companies like Kinder Morgan to conduct the preliminary studies needed for oil pipelines to be built through public parks.)

According to Popham, “Minister Steve Thomson signed off on this OIC … which is sadly ironic, because before politics he was the Chair of the BC Agriculture Council… representing BC agriculture.”

Cabinet Actions Of This Type

Collins said cabinet actions of this type are rare, but do happen. Six Mile Ranch was excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1997. Another parcel was taken in Delta, during the early 2000’s.

This latest OIC maneuver removes any hope British Columbians had that the Agricultural Land Commission could protect their food security interests.


Map 3 of Lands Excluded from the ALR

It also raises questions about the Ministry of Agriculture’s credibility. Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. When ordinary people use it, we call them liars. How does one explain the Ministry’s assertions that ALR decisions in the Peace River region are being made by an independent body? Is doublespeak Government policy in British Columbia?
Court Challenges Against Site C

Meanwhile the first court challenges against Site C are being held in Vancouver.

On Monday, the Peace Valley Landowners Association Association argued the government’s approval of the project should be quashed because, “A decision cannot be reasonable if the decision-maker does not consider the factors the statute requires them to.”

A lawsuit by “Treaty 8” First Nations tribes went before the BC Supreme Court at 10 am.

Top Photo Credit: “Peace River Valley” by tuchodi via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)


Climate Change, Politics & Agriculture in Canada’s Pacific Province

Written By Roy L Hales and Robert Lundahl. Originally published in TheECOreport.

Part I of The ECOReport/planet rl a Earth Day Investigative Special Report on the Water Energy Nexus.

California’s drought is a North American disaster-in-the-making. Most of British Columbia’s fresh produce is grown in California. Though Canada’s Pacific Province exports a large variety of fruit and vegetables, it grows less than half the food it needs. Only 5% of the province is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and, thanks to Bill 24, this could shrink to as little as one half of one percent (0.5%). Looking at the lands whose protections are being relaxed, one has to ask, does BC prioritize fracking over food?

Looking West Down the Peace River Valley.

Looking West Down the Peace River Valley

In The Peace River Valley

“Almost half of the ALR lands are in the North, with 72% of BC’s remaining prime quality lands in the Peace River Valley. To make matters worse, these lands have been designated since the 1970’s to be flooded for what is called the “Site C Dam.” Future generations cannot afford to lose that food growing potential. There is just too much at stake,” said Abra Brynne, Co-Chair of the BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN), in a press release.

This is a fertile region, capable of producing almost as wide a variety of crops as the Lower Fraser Valley, British Columbia’s former “Bread Basket,” which has been converted over the past 30 years to housing. “Unfortunately, I do think agriculture and food systems are not being prioritized as much as it should be,” said Brent Mansfield, co-chair of BCFSN, in an apparent understatement. Agrologist Wendy Holm agreed, when she made her submission to the Joint Panel Review for the proposed Site C Dam. A large segment of the Peace River Valley has been living in the shadow of the Site C Dam since 1957. BC Hydro bought vast stretches of cropland and told farmers not to get too attached to their fields.

If that wasn’t bad enough news both for farmers and the citizens of British Columbia, alike, the Peace River Valley is also in one of the largest natural gas formations in North America.

“Do we use land for food production? Or for gas production? Or for hydropower? I guess my wish is that we have a society that is using fewer fossil fuels, and increasing local production of food,” said Dr Terry Moreau, Associate Director of Community Programs at UBC Botanical Gardens. Does this adequately sum up the facts or is a different mechanism afoot. Energy production is beginning to look like “The only game in town.”

Linda Geggie, Policy Chair of BCFSN, added, “When you put infrastructure in place, it causes a lot of loss of agricultural land. We’re looking at the Peace (River Valley) as a key area and we’re looking at major dam projects. Obviously you’re aware of Site C, and that is going to take up huge tracks of land. People say that’s not LNG, but a lot of the development of power, in Northern BC, is related to the development of LNG (Natural Gas).”
The Government’s Policy

Official opening of the Agriculture Centre of Excellence ACE

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson defended the Government’s policy.

“Land use decisions within the ALR are up to the Agricultural Land Commission. The ALC is an administrative tribunal, arm’s length from government, and government does not interfere in that independent decision-making process. The ALC looks at many factors when carrying out its mandate and each application has its own distinct set of circumstances and is considered on its own merits,” he said.

The spokesperson pointed out that 38,000 net-new hectares have been added to ALR since the Liberal Party came to power in 2001.

Food Systems Are Not Being Prioritized

Photo Credit: EAT! Vancouver 2005 – Food and Resturant Show at BC Place by kris krüg via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Although quick to defend the Liberal Party, that statement was made years before California’s drought, which is now in its fourth year.

Linda Delli Santi, executive director of the B.C. Greenhouse Growers Association, told the Globe and Mail that California’s low-value crops and less productive fields are starting to disappear but their “greenhouse crops are still humming along nicely,” seeing a fresh business opportunity.

There has been much debate on how much the prices of fruit and vegetables will rise this spring.

Over the Next Five Years

Brent Mansfield, Co-Chair, BC Food Systems Network believes that as California’s production drops, BC will experience price increases, of between 25% to 50%, over the next five years. Similarly, this prediction was made a little early, prior to the revelation that there is virtually no snow pack on California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Despite the new information, Mansfield inexplicably reconfirmed his earlier estimate.

Photo Credit: Sunset from Photographer’s Balcony – March 30 2015 – Kelowna – BC by Adam Jones via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

It is not yet known how strongly the drought will effect food prices in the Central or Atlantic regions. British Columbia appears to be one of the most vulnerable areas, due to its reliance on food imports trucked up I-5 from California’s Central Valley.

The provincial government is exacerbating the problem by favoring revenues from energy mega-projects, like LNG (natural gas) and the Site C dam, over the more immediate and basic need to produce more food.

Holm wrote that “the waters backed up behind the Site C Dam will submerge enough farm land to feed a million people,” not great planning, one might think, for a province so dependent on imported foodstuffs.

Geggie looks to the future, “We have to have a very resilient system. We can’t be looking at these large scale agricultural models as the predominant way.”

Photo Credit: Picking apples right from the tree! by Kelowna Farmers markets via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

By Robert Lundahl & Roy L Hales

People tend to think of California’s drought as a local problem, only it happens to provide most of the North America with fruit and vegetables.

When you consider that vegetables are mostly composed of water, one has to ask what will happen when it runs out?

The Napa Valley is in what was once one of North America’s most abundant ecosystems. Only most of the tidal wetlands that prospectors found when they came to seek gold in 1848, disappeared decades ago.

Looking back over the 75 years he has been in California, Paul Rogers said that people once came to California because of the lushness, but “that is declining.” He worries that there may come a day when there won’t be any water, but does not expect to see it in his lifetime.

Though California has had droughts before, this is the fourth year and conditions are getting worse. There is virtually no snow in the Sierra Nevada, which means nothing to provide the Spring runoff that brings life to the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This is a very serious problem in areas like the Napa Valley, which rely on groundwater.

“I’m very concerned, we all are,” said Dottie Lee.

Though she laughed easily, her countenance displayed deeper emotions. Dottie did not like to use the word “fear, which “is a negative word,” and her conversation focused on solutions.

“People have to really look at where they use there water, only use it where you really need to and be very selective,” she said.

“It’s interesting to hear the push-back on the Governor’s plans (to impose a 25% reduction on water usage in cities and communities). Some of it is he is asking us to cut, but we cut last year. They are using the 2013 as a baseline, but some cities and counties are in more dire straits than others,” said Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht.

He added, “I think the long term solution is to realize this is the new normal.”

Dottie suggested the state’s restrictions on residential water usage are not enough, “We’re going to have to look at commercial use too.”

Supervisor Wagenknech described the steps other Napa County communities are taking to remove a bunch of “agricultural straws from the acquifer.” Last December, they broke ground on the 12-mile long Milliken-Sarco-Tulocay recycled water pipeline. Construction has just begun on a slightly smaller recycled water pipeline at Carneros. An article in the NAPA Valley register describes the latter as a $20 million project that has been under discussion for decades. The 9-mile-long pipeline will convey treated sewer water to thirsty cropland.

Napa County has just completed a phase two study of groundwater usage.

“The biggest thing for homeowners, is taking out lawn,” said Dottie Lee.

A lot of cities are now offering cash to people who get rid of their grass. American Canyon has just outlawed using lawns in new construction.

“You heard the Governor wants to take out 50 million acres of turf… Lawns are going to be a thing of the past,” said Supervisor Wagenknech.

Matt Jones said home gardeners are going to get by this year, but they’re concerned about the future:

“What is going to happen next year and the year after in this drought trend. I’ve heard estimates that it could be as long as ten years before we get back to what we consider a normal rainfall.

“Today we’re selling tomatoes (plants) and people are buying fewer because they are concerned about water availability.”

“I’m going to grow a few more myself this year, not knowing what to expect next year. So I’ll be doing some canning and processing of home tomatoes that I wouldn’t normally do just because I think I might be ahead of the drought situation. This might be last opportunity to grow healthy tomatoes.”

Sue Berry gave produce to the food bank last year, but she won’t be doing it this year.

“I have a concern that the food bank is going to get hit hard this year, if other people do the same thing,” she said.

Her advice to people buying tomatoes cuts to the heart of the situation through-out North America. Our communities have become so interconnected that most have ceased to grow most of their own fruit and vegetables. Ninety percent of the tomatoes found in US supermarkets come from California. Berry suggests that before they buy tomatoes, customers should ask how far they came before reaching the market? What resources were consumed getting there?

The problem is much bigger than tomatoes and one of the best illustrations comes from across the border in British Columbia. Canada’s Pacific province has virtually ignored its agricultural sector. The most abundant crop in the fertile Lower Fraser Valley is houses. Some of the province’s most promising farmland is in the Peace River valley, where the threat of the Site C Dam has discouraged development for decades. Premier Christy Clark’s government recently approved the project, which will submerge 9,429 acres of class 1-5 agricultural land. British Columbia is focusing on the prospective riches connected to developing fossil fuel, not food. BC no longer grows most of its staples.

“We are importing from California when we could be producing it ourselves,” said Brent Mansfield, of the BC Food Systems Network.

He recently predicted that the province’s food prices could jump 25% to 50% over the next five years.

That was before Governor Jerry Brown announced there was grass on parts of the Sierra Nevada that are normally covered by five feet of snow. There won’t be much of a Spring runoff this year.

The extreme drought conditions in California, Southeastern Oregon, Western Nevada and Northwest Utah will most likely get worse. Eight states are reporting severe drought conditions.

California has had droughts before, but many people believe this one is amplified by human mismanagement.

Asked if fear is a component of the situation, Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said, “It often moves us in the right direction.”

California and North America are beginning to ask questions that have never had to be asked before. The Napa Valley is a microcosm. The questions asked here represent a shift in our way of doing things and looking at things. We used to think that local is not important and that’s not true. We used to think about water and think it would always be available. That’s not true. We used to think that corporations could run wild and that’s not true. We used to think of freedom as doing what we want but that’s not true, now freedom looks like responsibility interconnection and looking after each other.

Image at top of page: Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht by Peter Bettendorf.


Roy L Hales & Robert Lundahl
Native American spiritual beliefs are under attack. On Friday, April 10, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for, and against, Native Americans being allowed to worship at their ancient sacred site inside Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Facility. The immediate concern is gaining access; the larger issue is freedom of religion.

Litigants Alfredo Figueroa (Yaqui/Chemehuevi), Phillip Smith (Chemehuevi), and Reverend Ron Van Fleet (Mojave) complain that the government and the companies involved in the utility scale buildout of renewable energy in the Mojave desert have lent a deaf ear, which has brought a new level of anxiety and spiritual pain to people who have long felt their voices muffled in the face of commercial development by others.

PHOTO : LUNDAHL. Leica M6, Ilford HP5, 50 mm. Summilux

Ivanpah is a 5-square-mile enclosure on the ancient Salt Song Trail, which stretches through four states.

There are hundreds of sacred sites along the way, whose spiritual significance has been compared to temples. Native Americans stop at them to pray, while on spirit runs.

“These runs would last weeks, if not months, and (participants) literally might spend all day running, literally running, from one state to another. By putting up the fence, you are essentially requiring them to take a detour from “Point A” to “Point C,” except “Point B” is religiously significant,” said Cory Briggs, the lawyer for La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle, Californians for Renewable Energy, CAre and six Native American elders.

He added, “Part of my clients’ religious tradition is an oral history tradition… Imagine a path… and along that path you have some significant markers. And for Native Americans on this path, on the Ivanpah site, there are significant religious markers that are part of the oral tradition and the handing down of their religion, that they have to actually be at… They have to have a certain view of the Clark Mountains, they have to be in a location, where the sun rises at a certain time.”

Mojave elder Reverend Ron Van Fleet said the rituals he preformed at Ivanpah cannot be meaningfully replicated, in accordance with his tradition and values, at any other location.

He is no longer able to do this because there is a fence around the solar facility at Ivanpah.

“We have nothing that tells us there is something of significance here, unless every point along the trail, or several points along the (Salt Song) trail are of such significance,” said the Department of Interior’s lawyer, Robert Oakley.

“If the federal government decided tomorrow, that its going to build solar facilities on every one of these historical markers, you can be darned sure we’d be filing a lawsuit,” said Briggs.

The present case dates back to 2010, when the litigants filed suit against the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Energy, for their failure to consult with the tribes on 6 of the first industrial solar projects slated for the California deserts.

Though the judge has yet to announce his decision about Invanpah, there is another controversy brewing on the neighboring hill. According to Lloyd Gunn of the Sierra Club Desert Committee, a transmission line is being built close to another sacred site.

PHOTO: LUNDAHL “Who Are My People?” Documentary Film ©2015 Robert Lundahl & Assoc.

Gunn took part in the Spirit Run up Metamorphic Hill that is shown in Robert Lundahl’s documentary Who Are My People? There is a still of them worshipping in front of two ancient triangles, composed of hundreds of rocks, at the top of this page. Chemehuevi Cultural Monitor Alfredo Figueroa is shown with his hands raised up, as he gives thanks to the Creator. The white triangle is filled with quartz. Figueroa said it is a geo-locator pointing to Spirit Mountain in the Southeast. Spirit Mountain is called Avi-Kwame in the Mojave language. In the Uto-Aztecan worldview it is referred to as Tlalocan. It is an altar with prayer rocks, that Gunn believes is hundreds if not thousands of years old. The black arrow, or triangle, points to the Clark Mountains to the Northwest, the location of hot springs. Figueroa says the Salt Song Trail connects the two.

“I called BLM at Needles, and talked to Mike Ahrens, the field manager, and he directed me to his archaeologist and I was told there was no such thing as a sacred site out there,” said Gunn.

He asked the archaeologist, “Why are you pretending it doesn’t exist?”

When the ECOreport phoned Needles, Mike Ahrens admitted he does not know where the site is. He never-the-less insisted it is outside the footprint of the project. Ahrens said he has heard reports “from non-Native Americans,” but no Native Americans have mentioned it during the year he has been at Needles.

Ivanpah Newspaper Article
Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 15, 2010

However a photograph on the September 15, 2010, Las Vegas Review-Journal depicts Chemehuevi elder Phillip Smith and Mojave elder Rev. Ron Van Fleet beside one of the triangles.

“We’re reaching out to Phil Smith because we’d like to get his take on this. If the Chemehuevi share this concern then we want to address it,” said Ahrens.

There have been many incidents in the Native American struggle to exercise the same rights everyone is guaranteed under the First Amendment.

A scene in Who Are My People? documents the German company Solar Millennium bulldozed two of the ancient geoglyphs at Blythe. One of them, the True North Geoglyph, was 50 feet long.

In another scene, a BLM official named Lyn Ensler admitted she could not remember which tribes she had contacted or “which tribes went to which meetings.”

Alfredo Figueroa said none of the Quechan and Mojave elders were given advance written notice of the meeting at Blythe City Hall, on July 23, 2013. If he hadn’t been tipped off the day before, they would not have been present at a scoping meeting discussing the solar projects at Blythe and McCoy.

“This is the most sacred site of the world and it was the worst location for the solar company to place these massive solar projects. It is where the spirit of El Tosco descends down from Tamoanchan and is the center of the Creation story,” said Figueroa.

PHOTO : LUNDAHL. Leica M6, Ilford HP5, 50 mm. Summilux.

They did not stop Brightsource from building Ivanpah, but the tribes want access to their sacred site within the facilities fence.

“Are you saying that all you want is for them to open the gate when an Indian comes and let them run through it and then you can have the Ivanpah project?” the Judge asked.

“That’s a good chunk of it,” responded Briggs, “Let me explain the other part, if there are other phases that would require the destruction of a specific marker, that the government would need to work with my client to accommodate that.”

The judge is not expected to make his decision regarding Ivanpah, for months.

The larger issue has yet to be addressed.

Sometimes it seems like the freedoms we hold dear, the fundamental pillars of democracy, provide benefits for and are agreed upon by all. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion and the right to express this as we see fit.

In light of what is transpiring in the desert, we must consider that the level of racial and cultural antipathy towards Native Americans is so deeply ingrained and so vicious, that the presumption of the government may well be that the rights accorded to every other individual and group do not apply. For the most part, that seems to be fine with them. Or is it?

There is something highly symbolic in Cory Briggs fight to open a gate. Let’s hope that gate provides a pathway to respect for the Constitution and for people.

Image at top of page: PHOTO: LUNDAHL “Who Are My People?” Documentary Film ©2015 Robert Lundahl & Assoc.


Robert Lundahl & Associates
Robert Lundahl

La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle
Patricia Robles Chairperson
(760) 922-6422


Judges Grill Attorneys From Both Sides Over Landmark Case

By Robert Lundahl

In December 2010, La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle and CAre, Californians for Renewable Energy, along with 6 (six) Native American elders, filed suit against the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Energy, which were later joined by defendant project applicants for 6 of the first 10 industrial solar projects slated for the California deserts. The case, heard in the 9th Circuit, Friday April 10, in Pasadena, California, pertained specifically to the Ivanpah project, already constructed, and its applicant company, BrightSource.

BrightSource is an Israeli firm, which positioned itself to receive loan guarantees and cash grants under the ARRA stimulus program, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The primary objective for ARRA was to save and create jobs for Americans. Other non-American firms, like Solar Millennium AG, from Germany, also applied for and were granted permits to build utility scale renewable energy projects on public lands in the West. Solar Millennium AG is now bankrupt. Under the ARRA program, federal loan guarantees and cash grants were offered to companies. Cash grants totaled 30% of a project’s budget. The Ivanpah project was budgeted at 2.2 billion USD.

Questions related to religious freedom came about because BrightSource’s Ivanpah project was built on sections of the Salt Song Trail, sacred to Indian tribes and groups, including the Chemehuevi and Southern Paiute. The case was argued under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The law mandates that strict scrutiny be used when determining whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom, has been violated.

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The first part, known as the Establishment Clause, comes into play whenever the government takes an action that leads to suspicions that it is endorsing any or all religions. There is a second Free Exercise clause, which basically ensures that people should be free to practice their religion as they see fit.

La Cuna had challenged the projects on the basis they violated NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act, The National Historic Places Act of 1966, AIRFA, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and several other laws protecting Native American antiquities and heritage, practices and culture, but the argument came down to RFRA on appeal.

Native American spiritual and cultural practices are often land-based, involving spiritual practices on the land. Land is a commodity in the American economic system, something which can be bought and sold. The fundamental conflict of values could result and has resulted in the destruction and loss of cultural identity, according to Chemehuevi Elder Phillip Smith, and Quechan/Kumeyaay elder Preston Arrow-weed, in the film, “Who Are My People?” by filmmaker Robert Lundahl,, which explores the grounds for and context of the legal case. Mr. Smith is a named litigant.

Laws specific to American Indians protect vulnerable cultural resources, which pre-existed the formation of modern nations, and represent the documentation of the identity and practices of those early cultures. But RFRA protects all Americans equally, and as such, may be the stronger argument by example.

La Cuna attorney Cory Briggs presented his argument first. He indicated his clients were trying to exercise their religious beliefs, and that the sincerity of those beliefs were not challenged. Those beliefs include utilization of the Salt Song Trail, a network of trails extending over a vast, four state area, from California to Northern Utah, through Nevada and Arizona. Part pilgrimage, part “rite of passage,” the Salt Song Trail provides linkages between village locations and gathering sites for salt and medicinal herbs.

The usage of the Trail and its importance to tribes like the Chemehuevi and Southern Paiute does not translate easily. Judges questioned the importance of a “small location in a vast area” (The Ivanpah Site) to the exercise of those beliefs. “If you can use them and pray on them on all the rest of it, does it matter to the free exercise of religion? Does it significantly burden the exercise?” Briggs responded that according to litigants Smith and Ron Van Fleet, that going to the particular site was “meaningful to the practice of their religion.” Justices wanted to know in specific what it is that is sacred, “Can you lose any part of the Salt Song Trail, even if there is no sites on it, just the fact that its part of the trail…? …(does that) burden your ability to follow this religious tradition?” Briggs responded, “Yes.”

“Part of my clients’ religious tradition is an oral history tradition…” Imagine a path… and along that path you have some significant markers. And for Native Americans on this path, on the Ivanpah site, there are significant religious markers that are part of the oral tradition and the handing down of their religion, that they have to actually be at… They have to have a certain view of the Clark Mountains, they have to be in a location, where the sun rises at a certain time… The problem is by putting a fence around the entire site, my clients can’t get to the particular landmarks along the way.”

Justices asked, “Suppose you win, does RFRA protect the entire four state area from any development?” Briggs responded,”The Ivanpah project is only dealing with a portion of this… we’re not arguing you have to set aside the entire four states. What we are saying is that within the project, because it is now off limits, they built a fence around it, my clients can’t get to the portions that are significant for their religion…”

“They used to do these runs. These runs would last weeks if not months. And literally might spend all day running, literally running, from one state to another. By putting up the fence, you are essentially requiring them to take a detour from “Point A” to “Point C,” except “Point B” is religiously significant.”

Briggs said again, related to the scope of the argument, in response to judges reference to the “compelling interest” of the government to “develop something” in the four state area, that the government must provide access to what is at least one significant marker existing on the Salt Song Trail, on the Ivanpah Project, and in subsequent phases must consult with the litigants so that no more destruction occurs. “The claim is not that you cannot touch any part of the Salt Song Trail, the claim is that there is at least one significant marker within the fenced off portion of the Ivanpah project. We’re not arguing that you can’t have your Ivanpah project.” What we are arguing is that not being able to visit that site, freely…”

Justices: “Are you saying that all you want is for them to open the gate when an Indian comes and let them run through it and then you can have the Ivanpah project?” “That’s a good chunk of it,” responded Briggs, “Let me explain the other part, “if there are other phases that would require the destruction of a specific marker, that the government would need to work with my client to accommodate that.”

Justices: “Your clients never brought this up, is the problem.”

Briggs: “Actually we sued over the lack of consultations. We didn’t raise this issue on appeal.” According to Briggs, litigant Phillip Smith went to a meeting and indicated he wanted to be consulted on this project. BLM did not respond. “BLM took my information but never consulted with me,” Smith is quoted as saying in the proceedings.

Justices: “I thought that was the way the government consulted.”

Briggs: “This isn’t some kid from Santa Monica in board shorts and a skateboard showing up and saying, “Hey I have an issue, this is a regular person consulted by the BLM on these issues, he goes to a meeting. He goes to a meeting and says, ‘We need to have a chat about this project.’ They do not follow up. There is a footnote in the federal government brief, saying, ‘Look if you’d just contacted us we would have come to some agreement.’ First of all, it’s in a footnote, second, there’s nothing in the record to suggest that that’s true. And third, it is the government’s obligation to at least engage in a back and forth with my clients.”

“What interferes within their religion is going to the site to finish a portion of the run and being told, if you cross over the fence, you’re going to be arrested.”

Opposing counsel Robert Oakley from the Department of the Interior indicated that case law swung the other way. Justices asked, “Can you say that, in the context of what we have to take as the legitimate basis of their religious faith, can we take one part of that trail, wherever it may be, and know that it’s not going to be there any more and say we haven’t substantially burdened?

Oakley: I think you’d have to know for sure that it was a trail. I could refer to a case Judge Kleinfeld decided, the Huna case. It was not a RFRA case, it was National Historic Preservation Act, where the question was, “Had the government preserved some trails that were used in conflicts between Native Americans and Russians in Alaska, and the Court pointed out that these were very poorly marked, and that knowing something important happened in the area was not enough to make the entire area sacred.”

Justices: “You’re the side that wanted access to the sacred trail, did you ever give them a map?”

Briggs: “The answer is yes, It’s already in BLM’s possession. It has been in BLM’s possession for a long time. Let me be exactly precise, your honor. Did my clients in conjunction with this lawsuit, hand them the map? No…. The BLM actually has the inventory… They’ve had it for years. They have their own archaeologists and historians who know all of this stuff. To say that in this lawsuit my clients and I did not hand them the map, is to feign ignorance on subject matter that the agencies and the tribes have long shared a common understanding over.”

In response to Mr. Oakley’s comments that BrightSource does not have authority to make arrests, and stating that there are gaps in the fence for transmission lines, which could be utilized for access, Briggs concluded (to the Justices), “I realize you still have the difficult task of figuring out if it is in an area that is still fenced off is that still a significant burden. The only thing I would say to you is, just because the Sheriff is not there to watch somebody hop the fence… in other words, because you managed to not get caught… it’s the threat of prosecution that is the burden, not the fact that the Sheriff gets there in time to see you scaling the fence.”

A complete audio recording is available from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals A ruling on the hearing of oral arguments may take several months.


BrightSource’s Ivanpah project has been controversial from the inception.

Withstanding criticism following the 2011 Solyndra Bankruptcy, that the federal government was trying to use ARRA stimulus funds to pick marketplace winners and losers, and amid charges of cronyism, in November 2014, BrightSource requested a $539 million federal grant to pay off their 1.6 billion in federal loan guarantees under the ARRA stimulus program.

Some months earlier it had hit the press that “the project also functions as an avian death trap.”
“Authorities were all aware that birds couldn’t withstand the furnace-like heat generated by the unprecedented collection of solar panels. Unfortunately, the 350,000 energy-culling mirrors make the whole think look like a glittering oasis, luring birds to the area, where they are burned to death in the searing heat,” wrote The Wire in February, shortly after the Ivanpah Solar plant opened.

The article continues, (The project) “previously came under fire for displacing desert tortoises with the solar towers. In 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek reported the tension between the project’s green ambitions and not-so-green execution:

Early on, the project gained green cred from the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. That was before its 45-story towers began rising from a 3,500-acre dry lake bed in California, uprooting scores of desert tortoises from their burrows, far more than federal wildlife officials had estimated.”

In late October, 2014, GreenTechSolar reported: “The Mojave Desert plant, built with the aid of a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee, kicked off commercial operation at the tail end of December 2013, and for the eight-month period from January through August, its three units generated 254,263 megawatt-hours of electricity, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, that’s roughly one-quarter of the annual 1 million-plus megawatt-hours that had been anticipated.

Output did pick up in the typically sunny months of May, June, July and August, as one might expect, with 189,156 MWh generated in that four-month period. But even that higher production rate would translate to annual electricity output of less than 600,000 MWh, at least 40 percent below target.

Another sign of the plant’s early operating woes: In March, the owners sought permission to use 60 percent more natural gas in auxiliary boilers than was allowed under the plant’s certification, a request that was approved in August.”


By Robert Lundahl
Vatican Piazza
St. Peter’s Square With Solar Dishes, Photo Montage by Robert Lundahl ©2015.
In the weeks preceding the Joshua Tree premiere of the film, Who Are My People?, I arose at 5:00 a.m. to work with a remarkable person.

Pat Flanagan, self described “74 year old grandmother” was obsessed. As a board member of the Morongo Basin Conservation Association, she had labored for many months studying the permitting documents for the giant Palen concentrating solar plant. It was to be located at the southeast corner of the much beloved Joshua Tree National Park. The Palen plant was to have twin towers, similar to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located 15 miles outside Las Vegas.

Tribal groups objected to the location of the Palen facility due to its proximity to cultural sites like Corn Springs, an ancient site characterized by a large wall of petroglyphs, and because of the visual impairment to desert landscapes.

Three large solar facilities had been constructed in the Mojave Desert as a whole, and neither residents nor tribes were happy.

These multi-billion dollar investments had drawn lawsuits from groups like La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle, the Quechan Tribe, and others. Palen would likely be in violation of several laws protecting Native American patrimony and religious freedoms, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA). If traditional ceremonies were held in the area, the presence of twin industrial towers would not be conducive to those practices.

Palen also had the distinction of being turned down by the California Energy Commission, State licensing body for such projects. But like a vampire, it had arisen from the grave in a different form, a single, larger tower with a giant solar receiver atop.

What had begun to obsess Pat was that the documents provided by the State CEC and the federal BLM (Bureau of Land Management) did not match in their descriptions. Pat had written the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the tall towers, now single, were not a threat to aircraft.

The state and federal assessments had described two very different structures, and the language of the descriptions themselves further confused the matter.

The Bureau of Land Management Draft Environmental Impact Statement described and analyzed a 750-foot tower including a 68-foot high solar receiver. The CEC Palen Solar Power Project-Compliance Document, dated 9/12/2014 described a 130 foot glowing solar receiver with four times the volume of the federal version. Basin and Range Watch suggested that the instrument would have 3.8 times the killing flux volume of Ivanpah, which had, by that time, been excoriated in the press for killing the birds of the Pacific Flyway, along with resident endangered species like the Yuma Clapper Rail.
NextEra Rapa Nui
Moai Giants, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), with Solar Concentrators. Photo Montage, Robert Lundahl.
Pat had found, using Adobe search functions on the 1000 page .pdf documents, that the height of the receiver was not mentioned until page 997. Why?

The use of the word “atop”, did not clarify. In stating the tower height at 750 feet with a 130 ft. solar receiver “atop”, the question remained open as to whether to combined height of the tower and receiver in the State documents would be 750 feet cumulative, or 880 feet cumulative.
The call to the federal aviation administration eventually returned the information that the height of the tower was to be 750 feet. The height of the solar receiver would be 130 feet, and the cumulative height would be 750 feet. But this did not explain why the documents suggested otherwise grammatically.

Was it simply a misuse of language, bad grammar, copied from project to project, document to document, originating with project applicant BrightSource at Ivanpah, three years earlier, passed through the system without adequate editorial review by the State in a haste?

I had been engaged by CAre (Californians for Renewable Energy) some years before, to help write a legal complaint targeting the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and six of the first 10 project applicant companies in California. CAre, along with La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle (founded by 80 year old Chemehuevi Cultural Monitor, Alfredo Figueroa), and six Native American elders, would be litigants.

Ivanpah was a named project in the complaint, and BrightSource along with other companies, had joined the suit to oppose it. The case, still in court, is being heard today, April 10, 2015, in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, California. My company had written press releases, managed press inquiries, provided communications outreach to news organizations around the world, engaged the Wall Street investor community, and made “Rapid Response” videos to show destruction of Native American antiquities in real time, on the ground. It was a public relations operation of impressive scale and effectiveness. I was Alfredo Figueroa’s, PR machine.

Engaging with Pat Flanagan, and aware of her track record as a researcher, Biologist, Ecologist, educator, and the first biological monitor at the Solar 1 project in Daggett, California, the “grandfather” of power towers, and predecessor to Ivanpah and Palen, I was aware Pat was uniquely qualified and motivated to hold project applicants and governments accountable.
BrightSource, Stonehenge. Photo Montage, Robert Lundahl.
My role would be journalist; hers would be “subject matter expert.” She continued research by phone, to the CEC, to the BLM. The story came back. 750 foot towers. So the conversations changed, now asking: 1. If it was so clear to the agencies and applicants, why was it not clear to others?, and 2. What is the real meaning of the strange use of this word, “atop?” Was it bad grammar? An attempt to obfuscate? And what were the obligations to the public in a “public review process?”
John Dayberry, also an educator, from the Lake Tahoe area, weighed in. In order to communicate more broadly with the public, and specifically with youth, he suggested, use visuals. Photoshop skills and a Bauhaus-style class in Photo Montage inspired me to take his suggestion seriously.

What about a picture with large solar plants sited in front of other sacred or ancient landscapes/places? What about St. Peter’s Square? Stonehenge? More press releases were shot off to journalists, to activists, to cyberspace. The situation was dire; it was a “Hail Mary.”

Finally, Pat suggested we show the presumed 880 ft. tower and relate its height to the tallest building in San Francisco. Better yet, let’s put San Francisco in the desert, I opined, in front of the sacred mountain, Tamoanchan, where Chemehuevi Cultural Monitor, Alfredo Figueroa says his people descended from the stars.

The image was startling, the juxtaposition strong. A “streamer,” a dead bird hurtling toward the ground, is seen in the photo montage.

An accompanying graphic refers to the conflicting BLM and CEC documentation and gives the height of the tower at 880 feet. We knew the official response was that it was not, but to say that it was made the presentation more dramatic.
In the echo chamber of environmental communications and activism, any communique released to 400 people will find its way to the other side, in this case, corporations and government agencies. Already, dissenters within the BLM had said we were having an impact, forcing the BLM to re-evaluate policies. The headline would read: FAA (FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION) APPROVAL OF PALEN SOLAR INVALID
Docketed Approval Document Indicates Project Tower 120’ Lower Than In Actuality, According to CEC (California Energy Commission).

Was it “wrong?” I simply chose to interpret the usage of the word “atop” differently than the agencies told us they did, and “take them at their word”, as the specific grammatical construction appearing on the CEC docs suggested, assuming it was correct. A second email “blast”, titled “A Post-Modern dilemma: How can we have so much information and learn so little?” was released the next day.

Brightsource San Francisco_F
BrightSource San Francisco, Photo Montage by Robert Lundahl.

Leaks are a fact of life. Fact is, this e-blast was deliberately and openly leaked to energy company representatives. The following Friday, Pat uploaded her report, on Morongo Basin Conservation Association letterhead, to the public comments section of the California Energy Commission Palen Project portal. Later that day, the Palen Project, which had caused so much heartache and anguish in the Joshua Tree community was withdrawn. CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act requires clear and unequivocal communication with the public.

I wrote the following to a friend the next day:

“The agencies were caught with their pants down, with inconsistencies in the notation of the size and dimensions of the solar receiver, the “Killing Flux” and safety impacts. The discrepancies in the reporting were documented by Pat Flanagan and correlated by she and I over the last few weeks.

There was a consistent stream of public relations activity beginning with the film screening in Joshua Tree (“Who Are My People?”) and continuing with sarcastic Twitter and Facebook campaigns (“Brightsource, Stonehenge” and the others) mobilizing the Joshua Tree community and exposing the crisis to hundreds of people. Outgoing Superintendent Marc Butler of JTNP, 2 days after the screening, came out in an OpEd in the Desert Sun newspaper describing the project as an existential threat to the Park.

What happened with Solar Millennium, Blythe (Project) and Rio Mesa, happened again. Just as the company reached a point of confusion about project profitability, and began to run out of time to receive their cash grants, which would have required certain construction activities to have been completed, the public intervened, sowing “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt,” an old trick in the field of competitive PR.

Keep in mind it is hard for one corporation or organization to communicate internally. We had three, the CEC and the BLM, and the applicant, BrightSource, trying to get their facts straight, trying to work together, all following the denial of the project, its restatement, and “scale back” to one tower. Not suprisingly, their work was slipshod. Words are important.

BrightSource, now 1-4 in project development, is likely in financial trouble, and as the bellwether of the utility scale solar industry as a whole, I am not optimistic about its future.”


Commentary By Robert Lundahl

Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown announced sweeping water conservation measures in response to the absence of snow on California’s mountains.

“Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” he said. This is the fourth year of California’s drought. The conversation has become background noise in a state otherwise preoccupied by all the news unfit to print, including the headline from today’s SF Gate “Twenty Things You’ll Miss When You Move From the Bay Area.” Presumably California citizens will be moving from here because they have no water.

Continue Reading…

By Roy L Hales and Robert Lundahl

Originally published in


California’s water situation is beyond an emergency, according to Healdsburg resident Dave Howard. He and his sons returned from a “ski trip” in Northern California.

Continue Reading…

Rough Acres Ranch, Groundbreaking, Sunrise Powerlink. ©2015 Robert Lundahl, "Who Are My People?"

Rough Acres Ranch, Groundbreaking, Sunrise Powerlink. ©2015 Robert Lundahl, “Who Are My People?”

By Robert Lundahl

Roy L Hales is the founder of the environmental journalism web platform, The He has interviewed hundreds of environmental leaders in Government, Business, and Non-Profit spheres.

He likes to get a picture also of what journalists are saying, and so he researches the field itself. Here, Roy shares his thoughts about industrial renewable energy facilities and their impacts in the Mojave Desert and beyond.

“One of the reasons I think it is a ‘bus out of control’ is that when I have interviewed government officials in Canada and the United States, they have said ‘I know better than to have a personal opinion.’ They seem to not be able to speak beyond their own ‘box,’ meaning, they are given an area to look after, with strict guidelines of what they’re supposed to do, and they don’t look beyond that.”

Roy has two examples. In an interview with Sarah Kiley, Communications Officer for the National Energy Board in Canada, pertaining to the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which Kinder Morgan, a US oil services company, wants to triple in size, bringing bitumen from the oil sands of Alberta to the ports on the coast, and which the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby oppose, Ms. Kiley could not answer the most important question of all,” Hales recounts.

He continues, “She could deal with most technical questions about the pipeline review process, although the NEB left 2000 unanswered, according to Hales.” “But Ms. Kiley did not have an appropriate response to the most fundamental and perhaps most obvious question of all. If British Columbia doesn’t want it, and Burnaby doesn’t want it, and Burnaby mayor, Derek Corrigan, reelected with 70% of the vote, doesn’t want it, and Vancouver doesn’t want it, why are we talking about building it at all?”

Hales explains, “Ms. Kiley described the question about public acceptance as ‘politics.’ She said the National Energy Board just deals with science” — whether the pipeline will work. That’s like saying the bus that just ran over you is ‘science,’ and your accident is ‘politics.”

Photo Credit: People holding candles during the Rally against Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, on Burnaby Mountain November 17, 2014, by Mark Klotz via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Hales describes another interview, one where the official requested anonymity. “What is happening in British Columbia is identical to what’s happening in Blythe, in the deserts of California, where large power tower concentrating solar plants have destroyed Native American antiquities. In speaking with this unnamed federal official, the official agreed to be interviewed, provided I did not reveal his name, nor record the actual conversation, which left me paraphrasing him, of course.

The official stated the Native Americans were doing very well in opposition, that he respects Alfredo Figueroa, activist, and subject of Robert Lundahl’s new documentary film, “Who Are My People?”, and he learns something from Sr. Figueroa every time he talks to him.”

The film features scenes from Boulevard, California, during protests at Rough Acres Ranch, site of the groundbreaking for Sunrise Powerlink in 2010. Speculation at the time was that the true intention of Sunrise Powerlink was not to bring renewable energy from Solar facilities like Imperial II (which was stopped by lawsuit from the Quechan Tribe), but from natural gas plants to be built over the border in Mexico.

In the years since, concentrating solar facilities like Ivanpah have come to rely on natural gas support. As is the case with the Trans Mountain pipeline, the threat to the interests of Native Americans comes from the fossil fuels industry, renewable energy being a “smoke screen.” As Kermit said, “It’s hard being green.”

Hales continues, “This senior Bureau of Land Management official, who deals with desert lands including the Blythe area, and the McCoy Valley, said, ‘none of the work will come within 200 feet of a geoglyph’ and that these ancient artifacts would not be harmed. When I pointed out that many Native Americans see this all as part of a ‘sacred landscape,’ he could see the point.

The biggest question remained unanswered, however, ‘Why are we putting these solar plants here in the first place’. ‘Why are we building them on or around Native American antiquities that are thousands of years old, which can never be replaced?”

Groundbreaking, Sunrise Powerlink, McCain Valley, Who Are My People?” ©2015 Robert Lundahl

Many North Americans think these sites are like the Pyramids, ancient relics from a distant time, priceless, but unrelated to the life we lead in the 21st century. To Alfredo, and other Native peoples, they are holy. They are a part of a communion with The Creator. They’re sacred. They aren’t something from the past, they are ‘Now.”

What’s missing here is what Roy refers to as “social license,” a term most often used in Canada to express the public’s acceptance of a policy. As he says, “Social agreement, ‘We the People’ want this. Neither the people of British Columbia, nor the Native people around Blythe are being asked. Their opinions are irrelevant or are being treated as irrelevant.”

Things are different in the United Kingdom, where wind farms along the fragile coastlines have stirred opposition. Following, laws we’re enacted to provide villages and communities a say in the siting of wind facilities near communities. If a town or a region opposed, it would terminate the project. English villages have the “veto.”

But in the US and Canada, which we may think to be, arguably, more democratic. Democratic protections seem not to exist.

What’s wrong with that, an observer asks?

The world has always been ruled and regulated as much by democracy or democratic institutions as it has been ruled and regulated by pure power.

Are we just being idealistic?

Hales continues, “We have a chance here to do something really great. We have a chance to make a society where people matter, in part due to modern communications.

We have a chance to make a society where people look after the planet. We have a chance to make a just society.

If we let things like this just slip aside, we’ll lose the moment. The moment is right now. If we stand up and see justice done in the little things right now, we have the opportunity. It is an opportunity we’ve dreamed about for ages.

We do not have to let Native Americans see their antiquities destroyed. We do not have to let the coastline of British Columbia be destroyed by oil spills from tanker accidents.

Do we want justice? Or do we want a society that is ruled by corporations and the powerful? Where we are just little cogs. That is the real battle that is going on. And every one of these battles seems to boil down to the same issue.

It is the message behind Robert Lundahl’s film “Who Are My People?” featuring Native elders Alfredo Figueroa (Yaqui/Chemehuevi), Ron Van Fleet (Mojave), Phillip Smith (Chemehuevi), and Preston Arrow-weed (Quechan/Kumeyaay). The 53 minute film is available for a short time only, unrestricted for public viewing, and for press and educators worldwide, on the The ECOreport invites all to experience this important story.