Bipartisan bills that modernize development of renewable energy on public lands while protecting fish and wildlife habitat are being heard in Congress. Photo:Flickr:a4gap
In this day and age, it’s not often that folks from both sides of the political spectrum can get together and support a proposal affecting public lands. It’s even rarer to have congressmen from both parties, in both houses of Congress, moving legislation forward. Yet, that’s exactly what is happening as the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act receives hearings in both House and Senate committees this week.
One of the unique things about renewable energy development is the permanence to it. This is both good and challenging. Good because it’s a cleaner, sustainable source of energy that can’t be used up in the same way as fossil fuels. Challenging because once a solar field or wind farm goes in, it’s there for the long haul.
This necessitates smart planning. The Public Lands Renewable Energy Act is designed to steer development toward areas that are of low value for other resources, including fish and wildlife habitat. Processes like the BLM’s Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement have already been used to identify zones suitable for solar development. Additionally, last year the Western Governors’ Association launched the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHATS), a powerful mapping tool to help identify and avoid sensitive wildlife habitat when planning projects.
However, even with the best siting decisions, large-scale wind and solar projects will take up big chunks of land for long periods of time, and some impacts will be unavoidable. This fact requires tools to offset impacts, something that this bill does by creating a conservation fund using revenues generated by wind and solar projects operating on public lands. This conservation fund would be used in regions affected by wind and solar energy development so that work can be done in surrounding areas to offset the impacts from development on surrounding lands and waters and to enhance access to hunting and fishing opportunities on nearby public lands.
Finding the balance between wind and solar development and the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat on public lands will take hard work, but it’s essential work. Wind and solar offer the prospect of energy security and job growth, and we need these benefits to coexist with the outstanding cultural and economic benefits of hunting and fishing. With the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, we can develop energy resources, bolster local economies, diversify county revenue streams, and make the fishing and hunting better than we found it.
Congressional hearings in both the House and Senate mark not only an important step in the legislative process for the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, but also an important step on the path toward responsible energy development that takes care of the interests of hunters and anglers.
About the Author
Corey Fisher lives in Missoula, Mont., with his wife, Cheryl, and a dog named Blue. He is the energy team lead for Trout Unlimited. When not in the mountains hunting elk or casting flies to trout, he works to ensure that energy development is balanced with needs of fish, wildlife and hunters and anglers in the West.