In-Depth: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to cut red tape that delays renewable energy development on American public lands:
“This bipartisan bill will cut red tape standing in the way of developing renewable energy across America's public lands. Taxpayers also benefit as this legislation directs revenues to the Treasury for deficit reduction. Increasing access for sportsmen as well as ensuring counties and states receive adequate revenue for development impacting their communities is a no brainer."
In a July 25, 2019 tweet thread, Rep. Gosar wrote, “PLREDA rightfully returns revenues to states and counties where development occurs as well as improves conservation efforts and access for sportsmen and women.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) says renewable energy development, including on federal public lands, is key to addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
“As we work to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is critical that we embrace renewable energy development. Our federal public lands are ripe for solar, wind, and geothermal energy, and this legislation facilitates important environmentally sound development. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation and look forward to a hearing on the bill in the coming weeks.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) adds that this bill would benefit rural communities:
“Rural communities that have large swaths of public lands rely on royalties from traditional energy resource production to fund schools, roads and other vital projects. This legislation will help spur additional funding for our communities by allowing the rapidly expanding renewable energy market to utilize public lands for production, all while preserving cherished recreation activities, such as hunting, fishing, hiking and biking. Public lands are best managed for multiple use, and I am proud to support that goal with [the] introduction of the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act."
John Bowman, Managing Director, Government Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says:
“This legislation modernizes how we harness energy on America’s public lands. It helps identify areas appropriate for tapping wind, solar and geothermal energy—and minimizes impacts on wildlife, habitat and local communities. With this legislation, we have an opportunity to get this right from the start, by deploying climate friendly clean energy on our public lands in a way that is smart and effective.”
This legislation is particularly important to Western states. Testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on July 25, 2019, David Bobzien, Director of Nevada’s Office of Energy, noted that Nevada’s goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050 will be difficult to turn into reality without new utility-scale projects on public lands. Similarly, other Western states with sizeable areas of BLM-managed lands will also struggle to expand their renewable energy supplies without development on public lands.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) supports this bill. Its Vice President of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Tom Vinson, says:
“The American Wind Energy Association is encouraged by this bipartisan action to drive more renewable energy development on public lands. Challenges remain, but we believe this bill will help make more lands available for clean, low-cost wind energy—something that’s in the interest of every American. Harnessing more of the inexhaustible wind energy resource found on our public lands will boost U.S. energy security, reduce air pollution, conserve precious water resources, and create good jobs.”
The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) has been a longstanding proponent of sharing revenues from renewable energy leasing on federal lands with impacted states and counties. In a July 24, 2019 letter to House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources leadership, the WGA wrote:
“The West is rich in wind, solar, and geothermal energy resources, including on federal lands, and accessing these resources is a critical part of our region’s and the nation’s energy future. Western Governors support clear and coordinated permitting processes to promote the responsible and efficient development of these resources. As with other forms of energy development, this development must be accompanied by the disposition of revenues to states and counties to compensate them for the effects of renewable energy projects within their borders.”
The Center for Biological Diversity opposed this bill in the 115th Congress, tallying it as part of “Congress’ assault on public lands” in Trump’s first year in office. In a report, the Center for Biological Diversity wrote:
“The stakes for America’s public lands have never been higher. Congressional attacks on lands and oceans held in trust for all Americans reached a fever pitch in 2017 and don’t show any signs of letting up. Public lands are some of the nation’s most spectacular places, providing respite and recreation for millions, critical wildlife habitat, clean air and water… Lawmakers hostile to public lands and beholden to corporate interests clearly see the Trump administration as a golden opportunity to seize, dismantle, destroy or privatize America’s public lands and hand control to private industry to mine, drill, log and bulldoze.”
A July 26, 2015 post on the Mojave Desert Blog opposing this bill in the 114th Congress argued that it would “allow Washington to short-circuit environmental review” to the detriment of environmental protections and the natural environment. The post continued:
“[P]rogrammatic energy development plans have shown significant deference to industry and offer environmental shortcuts for industry to bulldoze significant swaths of intact habitat. If you want to imagine what will happen if the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act passes, you can take a close look at the Solar Energy Program established in 2012 that left hundreds of thousands of acres of beautiful desert valleys vulnerable to energy development through variance lands and development priority areas known as Solar Energy Zones. Projects in Solar Energy Zones receive streamlined environmental review, but at significant cost to wildlands and natural resources… Th[is] legislation will likely result in hundreds of thousands of acres of additional energy zones and variance lands across the west for wind and geothermal energy, catering to corporate access and discarding wildlife, recreation and solitude.”
This legislation has 37 bipartisan cosponsors, including 19 Democrats and 18 Republicans. It’s also supported by both environmental and industry groups, including The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Association of Counties, NextEra Energy, Solar Energy Institutes Association, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), EDF Renewables, and First Solar. It’s also supported by a number of sportsmen’s groups, such as the American Sportfishing Association, Trout Unlimited, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Last Congress, this legislation passed the House Committees on Natural Resources and Agriculture with the support of 39 bipartisan cosponsors, including 23 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
Of Note: From 2009-2016, the Obama administration approved 60 wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects on federally-owned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. However, since 2017, only two new renewable energy projects have been approved on public lands.
In Arizona alone, the BLM has already designated three Solar Energy Zones, also known as Designated Leasing Areas, for development. These are lower-conflict areas that have undergone a public stakeholder process with the goal of designated efficient development in those areas. Additionally, the BLM has designated over 190,000 acres of priority solar and wind development areas across the state, expanding opportunities for lower-impact development.
Valerie Morrill, director at large for the Arizona Wildlife Federation, argues that developing Arizona’s public lands for utility-scale solar power and other clean energy resources would benefit the state’s economy, wildlife, and more:
“A typical utility-scale solar power plant powers the needs of tens of thousands of homes and contributes millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues. The act can help spur the development of more such beneficial solar power plants. Developing clean energy resources in these BLM Designated Leasing Areas on Arizona’s public lands while protecting our most important wildlife habitat and cultural resources will help ensure long-term benefits for our counties, our state and for future generations who will appreciate our foresight and our careful planning for their well-being.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / zhongguo)