In June, President Obama introduced his Climate Action Plan, doubling the goal set during his first term to 20,000 megawatts' worth of renewable energy projects on public lands, generating clean, sustainable power for about six million homes. Remarkably, the Interior Department has already exceeded the first term target (10 MW permitted by 2015) and is well on track to meet the second-term target.
As they look to increase renewable energy development on public lands, Secretary Jewell supports a landscape-level approach, meaning that in addition to the energy, the places where these projects are sited is crucial. The Wilderness Society has long supported "Smart from the Start" approach to developing needed renewable energy projects that protect wild lands by avoiding sensitive lands and habitats.
Now Congress has the chance to do their part.
Legislation introduced in February gives the Department new tools to further address unavoidable impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat. The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (HR596/S279) would re-invest some of the revenue earned from wind and solar development back to conservation activities in local counties and states. This could mean repairing damaged soil and vegetation, improving trails and access and restoring impacted watersheds.
The bill also proposes sending funds directly to counties and states. The House's version of the bill would give 25% to conservation (the remainder would go to deficit reduction), while the Senate version would give 35% (S. 279 distribution formula pictured in the graphic above right).
“The bill strikes a good balance between the renewable energy we need and the places we love,” said Chase Huntley, clean energy policy director at The Wilderness Society.
This bill is not only supported by members from both parties in Congress, but by popular opinion as well. Recent polling data found that over 80% of Western voters want to see funds already collected from the production of wind and solar energy on public lands used for land restoration and protection.
It isn't often these days that a Congressional bill is bi-partisan and broadly supported, but when it makes great sense, nothing should stand in the way of Congress passing it.