Congressional leaders signal support for renewable energy policy friendly to wildlife, habitat

May 20, 2010

Conservation groups call Arizona program an example the nation should follow

WASHINGTON D.C. — In an effort to stimulate a national renewable energy policy that is efficient, clean and green, ranking Congressional members today delivered a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Robert Abbey, calling on them to encourage state BLM offices to identify disturbed lands that are appropriate for renewable energy development. The Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife applaud these leaders’ effort to highlight an innovative renewable energy development program that can launch America into a clean energy future that is truly green.

Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Chairman of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee and seven other members of the House of Representatives jointly called upon Salazar and Abbey to help states follow the example of Arizona’s Restoration Design Energy Project, an innovative project using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to identify brownfields, landfills, and other disturbed lands for renewable energy projects. As stated in the letter, “this initiative and others like it support Secretary Salazar's vision of using public lands to move America toward a clean energy future and maintain proper stewardship.”

“This is a crucial opportunity to expand our renewable energy infrastructure in a way that minimizes the risk to pristine lands,” Rep. Grijalva said. “It’s an investment in the economy, the environment and the common good. Using these lands, which would not otherwise be viable, in a way that actually cleans the environment is a great public service, and I’m proud to be a strong supporter.”

The Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife have been working to ensure that renewable energy projects on public lands are guided to places likely to have the fewest impacts to wildlife and natural resources. Poorly sited solar and wind projects can use up scarce water resources and destroy fragile habitat for migratory birds, endangered species and other wildlife. Some of the most ideal locations for renewable electricity generation are brownfields and other disturbed lands, as they tend to be wired for transmission, generally have low habitat values, and are more attractive to developers due to their lack of resource conflicts.

“We know that there are thousands of disturbed sites with renewable energy potential across the nation, and Secretary Salazar and Director Abbey should use this opportunity to expand upon Arizona’s innovative program and help get more renewable energy projects built on these places,” said Jessica Goad, an Energy and Climate Change Policy Fellow at The Wilderness Society. “Americans need energy and it just makes sense to find ways to revitalize places that currently have little environmental value and are of no benefit to local economies.”

The redevelopment of brownfields – or former industrial “wastelands” – and degraded lands could provide an economic boost to local economies that are unable to benefit from these lands that surround their communities. The use of these lands will also shift some of the development from undeveloped public lands with intrinsic ecological and cultural values, preserving those spaces for other uses.

“The Arizona program shows how to make energy that is both clean and green,” said Scotty Johnson with Defenders of Wildlife. “We thank Congressman Grijalva and others for their leadership and Defenders stands ready to work with the BLM on renewable energy projects that protect wildlife habitats while helping to launch America to a secure, sustainable energy future.”

This is a joint release by The Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife.