Congress needs to move on renewable energy act

Trout Unlimited photo.

By Corey Fisher

One of the unique things about wind and solar energy development is that they rely on a clean source of energy that can’t be used up in the same way as fossil fuels. However, a challenge for these developments is that they often require scaling up across a large footprint of land, and once a solar field or wind farm goes in, it’s there for the long haul.

When these projects are sited and approved, careful consideration is needed to ensure these developments balance the power values with potential impacts to the surrounding land. 

Addressing these issues is central to the new Bureau of Land Management rule released today finalizing regulations for leasing public land for wind and solar development. The long awaited rule creates a consistent process for leasing public lands for the purposes of developing renewable energy, while also ensuring that the public receives fair market value for this development on America’s public lands.

The competitive leasing provisions included in the rule are similar to the process already used for leasing oil and gas, but also promotes leasing within designated areas that have been identified as preferred locations for these developments. This is an important step that will help to ensure that leasing and future development is focused in those areas where there will be minimal conflicts with other land uses and management objectives, such as conserving fish and wildlife habitat.

These common sense provisions are a positive step in the right direction and will go a long way toward striking the right balance between energy development and habitat conservation by making sure projects are located in areas with the most energy potential and fewest conflicts.

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, including funding dedicated to improving fish and wildlife habitat in order to mitigate unavoidable impacts. Though no fault of their own, this is one place where the BLM’s rule comes up short.

Under Federal law, the BLM is not able to keep payments for the use of public lands, including the revenues that would be generated through wind and solar development. Instead, these revenues go directly to the U.S. Treasury. This problem can be solved if Congress would pass the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act.

A solar field generats power. Bureau of Land Management photo.

This innovative piece of legislation would build on the BLM’s leasing rule 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 impacted by wind and solar energy development so that work can be done in nearby areas to offset the impacts from development on surrounding lands and waters and to enhance access to hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands.   This bill has long enjoyed bi-partisan support in both chambers of the U.S. Congress and demonstrates smart public policy.

When Congress gets back to work following the election, they will have a short window take up unfinished business during the lame duck session that will wrap up the 114th Congress.  One of the items that Congress should tackle is to pass this bill and ensure that both the permitting and conservation funding mechanisms become law.

Finding the balance between wind and solar development and the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat 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.

The BLM’s leasing rule is positive first step, but now we need Congress to do their part.  

 Corey Fisher is the Senior Policy Director for Trout Unlimited. He also represents Trout Unlimited as part of the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition. He can be reached at


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