Wind turbines. Courtesy NREL.
I don’t often turn to stand-up comics for insight on matters of national energy policy, but since all other attempts to stop the oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico have failed, it probably wouldn’t hurt. I ran across a quote from Robin Williams the other day: “What is right is what’s left when you’ve done everything else wrong.” When it comes to developing the abundant wind and solar resources on America’s public lands, we need to take stock of how poorly we’ve done with other forms of energy.
For too long, energy development on public lands has been characterized by conflict. A decade of contentious decisions to lease large swaths of the West with little or no review have left pristine habitats and landscapes dotted with oil and gas wells, and all the roads, containment pools, and holding tanks that come with them. Impacts across the landscape that have reduced the populations of the once-numerous greater sage grouse by 90% or more, requiring them to be added to the endangered species list. States and the public have been cut out of many processes in the East, leading to blowouts and poisoned drinking water in Pennsylvania, and countless other impacts throughout the country.
We must learn from the nation’s mistakes managing oil and gas, and create a 21st century leasing system for 21st century technologies. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recently-introduced Solar and Wind Leasing Act of 2010 is a responsible step toward achieving that goal. It complements the Interior Secretary’s leasing authority with strong provisions that safeguard both natural and fiscal resources. The bill also makes a bold commitment to reinvest a portion of solar and wind companies’ profits in important conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that protects some of America’s most important natural areas, including National Parks, historic sites and battlefields, state and local parks, working ranches and forests, wildlife refuges and national forests across the country.
The tragedy in the Gulf shows us what happens when we recklessly develop our natural resources. There is no question that we must transition away from oil and gas to a clean energy economy. The public lands have an important role to play in this transition by supporting wind and solar in the right places. It is essential we seize the opportunity to develop these public resources smart from the start, before we need to call in the comedians.
photo: Wind turbines. Courtesy NREL.