Congress could help conservation efforts through legislation that would return portions of revenue to local communities

Feb 11, 2013
Legislation filed by a large bipartisan group of senate and congressional members could improve how wind and solar are permitted and developed on public lands.

County commissioners, utility experts and conservationists that support The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013, are hopeful this much-needed bill will make its way to the President’s desk in the coming months.

“The bipartisan introduction of the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013 shows we can advance clean energy and protect our great outdoors at the same time,” said Chase Huntley, clean energy policy director at The Wilderness Society. “By making vital investments in local communities, future permitting, and natural resource conservation, the legislation makes a bold commitment to the regions that are seeing the added increase in development. The bill strikes a good balance between the renewable energy we need and the places we love. ”

The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act would allocate a share of the revenues from the sale of energy produced on public lands to local counties where projects are located. When projects are built on federally managed lands, counties are not able to add to their tax base. These dollars will help local governments deliver critical services and develop much-needed capital improvement projects such as road maintenance, public safety and law enforcement.

"What happens in Washington D.C. has an impact in places like Colorado and legislation like this is needed in places out West,” said Dan Gibbs, a Commissioner from Summit County, Colorado and board member of the Bull Moose Sportsmen Alliance. “In Western Colorado we're working towards sustainability on two fronts-economically and environmentally, and that means developing wind and solar while protecting our precious natural resources. Summit County is a spectacular place to recreate and to visit and the lands and wildlife are vital to our thriving economy."

This legislation is in-line with recent polling data that found Western voters strongly support developing renewable energy on our public lands, and even more voters support returning a portion of monies collected for renewable energy rents to wildlife and land conservation.  The bi-partisan poll, conducted 11 western states by republican pollster Bellwether Research and democratic pollster Peak Campaigns, was commissioned by The Wilderness Society.

The poll found that 73% of Western voters support the responsible production of wind and solar energy on public lands. When it comes to the use of conservation dollars from solar and wind energy rents, 85% of those surveyed want to see rent payments returned to local communities to restore fish and wildlife habitat and 81% support funds going toward setting aside key areas for parks, refuges and conservation areas.

“Both sides of the aisle see value in promoting renewable energy while investing in local communities and natural resources,” said Kris Mayes, former chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission.  “Broad support for this bill shows that clean energy development can move forward in this Congress. As we look to the future, the immense wind and solar resources of our state will grow Arizona’s economy in a sustainable manner.”

To date, Congress has not taken action on the legislation despite bills having been introduced in the last two sessions. In the last four years, the Interior Department has permitted more projects than ever before and renewable energy development is growing rapidly, with the Bureau of Land Management announcing 23 active applications undergoing the permitting processing in the next two years.

“Wind and solar on public lands have come a long way in a short time. But without a full set of tools, we can only go so far to stand up responsible renewable energy development on public lands,” said Huntley. “American voters want to see Congress take action on this important bi-partisan legislation that will pay back local communities, wildlife and the land they all depend upon.”

Chase Huntley
(202) 429-7431