A brighter future: 3 ways to shift energy development on public lands

Solar farm in New Mexico.

Randy Montoya, Sandia Labs.

For centuries, energy development on public lands has put coal, oil and gas extraction at odds with stewardship of wildlife, wildlands and recreational opportunities.

Fortunately, the way we’re producing energy on public lands is beginning to shift. The Department of Interior (DOI) has begun prioritizing the responsible development of renewable resources, which is a critical step in responding to the threat of climate change. Along with energy conservation and efficiency and rooftop solar, renewable energy development on public lands is an important part of the solution.

Just as important, a shift is also occurring in how renewable energy on public lands is sited and approved to better protect wildlife and wildlands. DOI is moving from a project-by-project approach to development, which has historically been rife with conflict to a smarter model that facilitates development in the best places while safeguarding the most important values for future generations.

The Wilderness Society recently partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife to push the Obama Administration to continue to shift energy development on public lands to be smarter, cleaner and sustainable. We can and must advance renewable energy while protecting wildlife and wildlands.

Our Brighter Future report details our recommendation for the administration (PDF)

A new model for developing clean energy on public lands

This smarter approach to development includes up-front planning to identify areas for projects that avoid environmental impacts and conflicts. Embracing this model can help development proceed efficiently while safeguarding wildlife and wildlands.

Keys to the approach included in the report are:

  1. Identifying low-conflict areas and incentivizing development in those places: Companies should be encouraged to develop in low-conflict areas, such as lands that are already degraded and are near roads and transmissions lines.
  2. Avoiding sensitive areas and committing to their conservation: Areas with high conservation, recreation, wildlife and cultural value should be excluded from energy development and protected through conservation designations and management.
  3. Minimizing and offsetting project impacts: Even appropriately sited projects leave a large footprint. Companies should be required to minimize impacts during construction and compensate for the impacts that are unavoidable.

This approach not only benefits our shared natural resources while protecting wildlife, it also provides a more efficient process for developing clean energy on public lands.

Building on progress made

In the last decade there has been an organized effort to leverage renewable energy resources on public lands—one that set up a path to achieve clean energy goals and conserve wildlife and wildlands for future generations.

Your support of The Wilderness Society helps to continue that work. We can and must advance renewable energy while protecting wildlife and wildlands.

Read more about the Brighter Future of energy on public lands (PDF)