Laying a strong foundation for renewable energy

You've no doubt heard about the progress Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has made in reversing bad Bush administration public lands policy.

He's rescinded an ill-conceived second round of oil shale research and development leases rushed out the door in the Bush administration's final days with no account for how they might impact local economies or ecosystems. He stopped controversial oil and gas leases near Utah's national parks and in other states where prized habitat was endangered and sportsmen and scientists were worried. In a bid to restore science as a key management tool, he began moves to repeal last-minute Bush actions that weakened the Endangered Species Act.

Yet these reversals do not mean he's sided clearly with one interest but, rather, that he's begun to restore balance to management of our public lands.

Secretary Salazar made all these moves even while earning the federal treasury $33 million from the leasing of more than 1 million onshore acres in states such as Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

His remarkably busy first ten weeks only underlay a bid to truly begin a new era for the Department of the Interior. By declaring renewable energy development a priority for his department, Secretary Salazar laid the foundation for our nation's entrepreneurs to harness the planet's wind, sun, heat and other renewable energy sources. His secretarial order will lessen American dependence on foreign oil and decrease fuel prices over the long-term.

Global warming, growing energy needs, and the devastating ecological, economic, and national security impacts of continued reliance on fossil fuels require a new solution. Our new Interior secretary appears to be taking this challenge seriously, working toward a comprehensive energy plan that will continue to utilize oil and gas development but move us toward a better future.

Secretary Salazar has an opportunity to do it right by siting renewable energy projects in a manner that protects the wildlife and natural resources that help keep American communities healthy, safe, and prosperous. This right way values land, wildlife, clean air and water, economic and energy security, and our future by placing renewable energy projects only in appropriate ecosystems and habitats. Through careful consideration and an open and transparent process of where it is best to build clean energy generation facilities, we can ensure renewable energy installations are kind to both the land and the atmosphere. In this way, we can learn from the conflicts we’ve seen over other forms of energy development on public lands.

In concert with efforts in the Senate and the House to create a green energy future that safeguards sensitive habitats and special places, this order will allow us to begin building a new energy economy.

We recently sent the White House a letter [pdf] supporting significant reform in how electric transmission lines are planned, sited, built, and managed to ensure coherence with our clean energy and land conservation goals. It is imperative that we act now to develop these resources in the right way from the start lest our communities and ecosystems suffer from the devastating impacts of global warming.