Wild Horse Education

Big Green Energy Debate: Are Wild Horses Caught In It?

One question we consistently receive in our inbox involves impacts from “green” energy to wild horses/burros. Of course they are impacted. Everything that lives in a wild place is impacted. In the video above, you see the last day of freedom for wild horses in the path of one of the proposed routes for a project called “Greenlinks North.” These particular wild horses are not there anymore, the fragmented herd BLM left in the valley will be impacted.

We were recently asked if there was any map or list of extractive industry in all wild horse and burro HMAs. No, there is not. In fact, in wild horse or burro gather planning BLM will list livestock, but not extraction or energy.

A good thing to remember when we talk about mining or transmission of so-called “green energy” power (solar plants constructed on public lands, not rooftops or parking lots) is that other mining and energy projects in these same areas are not limited, but are also being approved at extremely rapid rates.

If “green” is a goal, shouldn’t compound impacts be considered and cumulative impacts limited? If we are pushing damage to support something in the name of “global good,” where should limitations be set? How much pressure can finite public wild places sustain? 

“Green energy” does not materialize out of thin air. Raw materials are needed for construction and a power source is required. In many cases, the power sources rely on old infrastructure like oil and gas (many people do not know that the electric they use may come from a gas powered plant). “Green energy” is being pushed rapidly as a solution to climate change without addressing that the so-called “green” is being constructed using the same profit-driven mechanism that built the last infrastructure.

This piece is being presented to make sure that wild horse and burro advocates keep the big picture in mind. In the rush to switch to a consumer product labelled “green,” are we losing sight of the environment? 

There have been two high profile lawsuits (and one brewing) against “green energy” resource development in Nevada. Let’s use these for discussion: Ormat Geo-thermal, Greenlinks transmission lines to feed energy demand in northern NV, Thacker Pass (lithium). 

Ormat Geothermal

  1. Ormat Geothermal

One is a suit spear-headed by Burning Man against a geo-thermal plant in Gerlach. Gerlach is known as the “darkest town in the country” and part of only seven Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the entire world.

BLM approved the drilling of thirteen 2.1-acre wells drilled to 1,500 to 7,500 feet spanning 2,742 acres in Gerlach, adjacent to the ecologically sensitive Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA). “In greenlighting the project, BLM dismissed the cultural and recreational value of the town of Gerlach and disregarded the detrimental economic impact that could occur if tourism falters from loss of the dark skies designation or depleting the local springs and water supply. BLM offered no solution to local concerns about a diminished quality of life during construction, or in the aftermath — whether the project is abandoned or a power generation facility is built.” (You can read more HERE in the Burning Man journal)

Wild horse advocates that know the area watched the Herd Management Areas (HMA) hit with large roundups last year: Fox-Lake Range, Granite Range (part of the Calico Complex) and Buffalo Hills.

Will wild horses be impacted by construction and if the springs run dry? absolutely. Were they even considered in BLM planning? absolutely not. 

Greenlinks north: proposed route with map overlapping HMAs; Triple B, Fish Creek, Hickison, New Pass-Ravenswood, Clan Alpine, Desatoya, Horse Mountain.

2. Greenlinks

The map above of the Greenlinks project was only created by BLM after one of the scoping meetings when it was pointed out to them that they were entirely omitting wild horses. The map above omits HMAs that simply fall directly outside the line (like the inaccurate boundary line for Roberts Mountain, a part of the old Kobe Complex that BLM knows is inaccurately drawn).

There is no lawsuit yet against Greenlinks North, but support for one is swelling if BLM approves this plan as outlined.

The Greenlinks north line will run the historic and undeveloped “loneliest highway in America,” Highway 50. An alternative route (proposed by several environmental organizations) would jog the route straight through Triple B north to the already developed highway 80 corridor.

Valley in Triple B where a few wild horses were returned after the roundup; the valley where the alternative route will run (if approved).

What is Greenlinks? This proposed long high-voltage transmission project would open up all of western Nevada to renewable energy development, in some of the most remote basins and ranges. There are already (at least) 230 square miles of solar applications. The power would not help rural Nevada, but go to tech companies and warehouses, servers in Reno/Sparks (Virginia Range Industrial, like Blockchains and Tesla). The power demand in northern Nevada is forecast to increase by more than 700 MW within 10 years.

But non-profits and environmentalists aren’t the only ones speaking against NV Energy’s tactics. MGM Resorts and Caesars Enterprise Services have objected to NV Energy’s move to seek federal incentives for the project. MGM and Caesars both broke away from NV Energy in 2016, with MGM building its own solar farm and Caesars buying their power from a Texas company. The move cost MGM $87 million and Caesars $47 million.

But NV Energy is not requiring big companies like Blockchains or Tesla to turn parking lots and warehouses into solar farms, they are pushing this energy transmission line that begins with miles and miles of solar panels in fragile desert habitat and then using (primarily) gas powered stations.

In fact, grant money from the federal government is flying around to produce lithium to fuel the electric vehicle market. Tesla just announced a massive expansion of their facility in the Virginia Range; the energy demand Greenlinks is being built to feed. 

On top of the disturbance during construction and the impact to viewing of pristine landscapes, power lines are know to cause disturbance to both domestic livestock and wildlife. “High voltage power lines can interfere with the ability of cows and deer to respond normally to the Earth’s magnetic field, according to a team of European researchers that has been studying these animals with the help of Google Earth.” (more HERE)

Will wild horses be impacted? absolutely. 

Thacker Pass Lithium Mine

3. Thacker Pass: Lithium America

A decision is expected shortly in the case against BLMs rushed approval of Lithium Americas Thacker Pass mine.

The ruling in this case will play a big part in determining if the rush for “clean energy” will be allowed to proceed at a huge environmental and historical cost. Tribal nations consider the area sacred, environmentalists consider the area one of the last pristine places in the Great Basin, ranchers are concerned about water… but the mine argues this area will “greatly increase domestic lithium supply” and should not be delayed.

There are no wild horses in this area (they were removed a long time ago). However, the ruling in this case will be a pivotal point in determining if there will be any environmental accountability to the “green energy” industry.

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Just a fast look at the maps above can show you how lithium mining claims overlap HMAs. Are wild horses and burros impacted by the rush for battery powered cars? Absolutely.

Why use Nevada as the example? Because Nevada has more wild horses than all other states combined, it is “wild horse central” at the center of U.S. lithium claims.

Where should the line between protecting the environment and pushing green energy be drawn? This case will set a tone for a long time to come.

These three instances, in one state, are a drop in the bucket when we are talking about “green energy” and the environmental impact. 

The Climate and Community Project just released a new report “Achieving Zero Emissions With More Mobility and Less Mining.” These types of strategies should be looked at closely BEFORE approving massive (federally subsidized) environmental destruction in the name of “green energy” and “climate solutions.”

It is important to remember that extraction for other purposes (gold, silver, vanadium, oil and gas, etc.) are not being curtailed as “green energy” is receiving massive subsidies. In many cases a single valley can be facing an energy transmission line, solar development, geo-thermal and gold or silver mining all at the same time.

In addition, projects to prop up the livestock industry under this pressure are also expanding.

Habitat loss and fragmentation, mixed in with water table drawdown and unknown impacts to the environment and cellular level processes (like those from high-voltage energy transmission) are a very real threat at the heart of the loss of the wild…. including our wild horses and burros. 

Over the coming year the fight to gain protections for our wild horses and burros must drive down deep into the fight to save the land they stand on. 

Can there be balance between the growing consumption of society with protecting the environment? A bit of “food for thought” in an article from December you may have missed that talks about how humans are addressing climate change to perpetuate a way of life, not to help the planet: Addressing Climate Change Will Not “Save the Planet”: The dismal reality is that green energy will save not the complex web of life on Earth but the particular way of life of one domineering species.

Edited to add: Another article just sent to us published in the Guardian yesterday: “It warns that unless the US’s dependence on cars in towns and cities falls drastically, the transition to lithium battery-powered electric vehicles by 2050 will deepen global environmental and social inequalities linked to mining – and may even jeopardize the 1.5C global heating target.”

Of course there are things people can do like limiting what we buy to what we need, repairing or giving things away instead of throwing them out. We can limit travel, use public transport when possible and set thermostats to save energy.

The big culprits are those that push consumption and create new dependency (like energy pipelines and not consumer independence through rooftop solar).

Why aren’t we turning warehouses and shopping center roofs into solar farms? Why aren’t we subsidizing companies like Tesla and Blockchains (bitcoin is a massive consumer of electric power) to turn their warehouses and parking lots into solar farms and instead destroying fragile landscapes to feed them? Aren’t we destroying the ability of wild places to sequester carbon? Shouldn’t we protect that, too? In our opinion, that is a better place to start.

When it comes to the wild place limitations on industry must be created.

The fight for wild horses begins with the fight for the wild.

Help keep us in the fight.

Categories: Wild Horse Education