Bipartisan lawmakers propose sharing revenues with states, counties

A bipartisan group of Western lawmakers has reintroduced a bill that would establish a new leasing program for wind and solar energy on federal lands and use a portion of revenues to support states, counties and wildlife habitats.

E&E News by Phil Taylor

The bills by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) also would dedicate revenues to help agencies streamline the permitting of renewable energy on federal lands.

"With some of the best renewable energy development sites located on public lands, it's vital to expand this industry while protecting the natural resources that make the West famous," Tester said this morning in a statement. "Our bill is a common-sense way to create jobs and provide renewable energy the same opportunities as oil and gas while increasing our energy security."

The proposal drew the support of conservationists, sportsmen and county officials who warned that the unchecked expansion of renewable energy on public lands could degrade habitats and strain counties' ability to fund basic services like road maintenance, public safety and law enforcement.

The measure has also been endorsed by taxpayer advocates who said a competitive leasing program similar to the way the Interior Department conveys drilling rights is needed to ensure taxpayers get fair return for use of their lands. But renewable industry groups have questioned whether the new leasing system proposed by the bills is necessary, saying it may add a layer of bureaucracy.

Its introduction comes as the Bureau of Land Management has approved 34 wind, solar and geothermal projects on public lands since 2009 and last week identified 23 additional projects it intends to move through federal permitting this year and next (Greenwire, Feb. 6).

Like last Congress, the bill carries strong bipartisan support in both chambers. Gosar's H.R. 596 has 15 co-sponsors, including Reps. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). Tester's bill is co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Jim Risch of Idaho and Dean Heller of Nevada and Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

… The bills' reintroduction drew praise this week from the Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, the Idaho Wildlife Federation and renewable energy construction provider Exergy Integrated Systems. The effort last Congress was endorsed by the Western Governors' Association, the National Association of Counties and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"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," said Chase Huntley, a clean energy specialist with the Wilderness Society.