Senate bill would help fund resource conservation
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —A new pilot leasing program for renewable energy projects on public lands could create a stable source of revenue for conservation and management of natural resources, and also generate some funds for stretched local and state government.
The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2011 (S. 1775) has early bipartisan support in the Senate, with co-sponsors including Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)Jim Risch (R-ID), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Dean Heller (R-NV).
“America — and Colorado, in particular — is blessed with bountiful renewable resources on our expansive federal lands. This bill is in line with our Western tradition of a balanced approach to land use that supports the responsible development of our resources even as we conserve them for future generations,” Sen, Mark Udall said. “By directing a portion of the revenues from these leases to state and local governments, this bill will help support our schools and rebuild the infrastructure that our rural economies depend on. At the same time, it will create clean-tech jobs and grow the clean energy economy in our state, while making sure that our public lands are still protected for all of us to use and enjoy.”
In a prepared statement issued last week, Udall said he believes an all-of-the-above approach to energy will help wean the country off of foreign oil and position us to lead in the global economic race.
The bill would set up a two-year program overseen by the Secretary of the Interior wherein private companies could lease public lands to develop wind and solar energy and create local jobs in the clean energy economy. Revenues from the program would help boost state and local economies, streamline the permitting process and help reduce effects on local wildlife.
The bill has also been endorsed by the Taxpayers for Common Sense, the National Association of Counties, and the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, which represents Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation. At the end of the pilot program, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service would take over administering the permanent leasing program.
“This is a big step forward toward creating a renewable energy policy which respects both the rights of developers and those who use and value our public lands,” said Keith Curley, director of government affairs for Trout Unlimited. “Senators Heller, Reid, Risch, Tester and Udall recognize the importance of healthy habitat to sustaining fish and wildlife, and by introducing this bill, they are giving a nod to the many sportsmen and women who value the quality of those lands. We thank them for charting a course toward a more balanced approach to managing energy development on public lands.”
Sustaining the natural values of those lands is important on levels that go far beyond habitat and wildlife, said Brad Powell, western energy director for Trout Unlimited.
“Sportsmen play a vital part in rural economies – hunters and anglers generate more than 76 billion dollars in economic activity per year,” Powell says. “Keeping healthy populations of big game and quality fisheries is important not only to sportsmen, but also the businesses and communities which support them.”
The bill would move toward a leasing program for wind and solar energy on public lands, and set up a royalty which will be used to provide funding to state and county government, conservation, and the processing of wind and solar permits. Currently, wind and solar projects on public lands are managed using rights-of-way and special use permits, and there is no dedicated funding source set up to offset impacts to fish and game habitats and access that result from renewable energy projects. Revenues woul be distributed as follows:
- 25 percent to the county or counties in which a project is located;
- 25 percent to the State in which a project is located;
- 15 percent for a renewable energy permit processing fund for Interior (after 15 years, this revenue stream will be deposited into the conservation fund); and
- 35 percentto a fund for wildlife and land conservation and protection.
The Renewable Energy Resource Conservation Fund set up through this bill will be available to assist in protecting and restoring fish and game habitat and securing recreational access—essential components to creating a more comprehensive approach to balancing the uses of our public lands. After experiencing the problems associated with traditional energy development firsthand, hunters and anglers are wary of the possible impacts these large-scale developments can have on a landscape.
“We’ve seen what happens when there’s a rush to develop. We’ve seen our hunting and fishing opportunities decline,” Powell says. “This bill will help bring the balance that enables us to develop energy resources while sustaining our fishing and hunting heritage.”