New rule settles competition between renewables and mining on western public lands

Large solar plant in California's Mojave Desert

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A new rule will protect proposed renewable energy sites from conflicting mining development on public lands in the Western states, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said at the end of April.

The decision continues to advance the Obama administration's efforts to use appropriate public lands to promote clean energy development. In the past five years, the BLM has approved 31 wind, solar and geothermal projects, which when constructed will power over 3.5 million homes.

Much progress has been made in advancing responsible renewable energy development on public lands, but challenges such as the competition between mining claims and wind and solar projects on federal land require a continued focus from the administration to maintain momentum.

Giving renewable projects a boost

The BLM's new rule allows them to halt new mining claims for two years on public lands where wind and solar developers have applied to locate new projects. This period, which can also be extended, will allow time to analyze and design these renewable energy projects.

The rule also prevents mining companies from claiming land that would later force renewable applicants to pay them for forfeiture. Over 400 new mining claims have been made in areas where there were applications for wind projects.

Another 200 mining claims have been made in areas that had been identified as solar energy zones (SEZs). SEZs are part of the Interior department's efforts to expedite solar development where there are high solar resources and low conservation values. Protecting these areas from competing uses like mining is key for advancing responsible renewable energy development.

This map shows locations of identified SEZs (click on the map to view a larger version):

"Smart from the Start"

The Wilderness Society has been heavily involved in siting and permitting of renewable projects on Western lands to ensure that they are "Smart from the Start" - that fragile wildlands remain protected while America moves towards a more sustainable and less carbon-producing energy future.

"Smart planning before conflicts arise should be a top priority for the BLM, and it seems this rule will help reduce potential issues down the road," said Alex Daue, our renewable energy associate. "With this rule, rights of ways for renewable energy development such as wind and solar will be given priority over predatory mining claim applications on public lands."

As the BLM continues to make decisions, we continue to advocate for actions based in “Smart from the Start” principles, such as:

  • Guiding solar development to low-conflict areas through the BLM’s western solar plan
  • Careful implementation of the plan's tools as the BLM considers future projects 
  • Developing similar plans for wind in key states like Wyoming, Nevada and Oregon
  • Doing more to mitigate unavoidable impacts to wildlands and wildlife habitat
  • Advancement of legislation like the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, which would reinvest some revenue from wind and solar projects into land and wildlife conservation

By continuing to improve policies and practices, we can ensure we protect wildlands and wildlife habitat while building the renewable energy we need to tackle climate change.

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