Energy and Federal Lands: Sympathy, and Conflicting Laws

Energy opportunities for all forms of energy occur on public lands: oil and gas, geothermal, solar, coal, and wind. Each has environmental impacts.They seem to have different policies attached to them with regard to siting on federal lands.

This week we had an interesting decision by Judge Matsch on San Juan Mountains Coalbed Methane. John Rupe tells me that some of the findings about NFMA were of interest and may be different than some 9th Circuit Cases- so don’t be surprised if you see something along those lines.

But what I wanted to draw your attention to is this quote:

The project area is within two of those counties where producing wells with collection and transmission facilities exist. The plaintiffs’ challenges must be considered from this perspective. This not an opening up of a virgin wilderness. The proposal made to the agencies was to authorize increased production from known gas reserves to meet the demands for energy to support the amenities provided by urbanization.
The extraction of non-renewable resources is an anathema to many in our society. Gas production is the antithesis of environmental protection. The national policies expressed in NEPA and in energy legislation are in direct conflict. The agencies are confronted with the dilemma that they cannot meet both goals. They must attempt to achieve a balance between them that is a reasonable accommodation between harms done to either of them.

And a note of sympathy from Patty Limerick of the University of Colorado in an article in today’s Denver Post, to our sister agency the BLM on the same topic:

“Given our energy habits, and given our inability to change them, we have to go forward with this,” said Patty Limerick, director of the University of Colorado’s Center of the American West, who recently hosted BLM leaders at a forum and is preparing a report to guide conservation initiatives.

“It’s time to hold the mirror up to ourselves,” Limerick said. “Simply taking a sharp stick, and poking it at the BLM, is not really much of a social policy.”

For those of you not familiar with her work, here is a link to the Center of the American West. In my view, they do a lot of thoughtful work on many of the topics that interest us on this blog.

I once engaged in a discussion with a colleague on needing ringside seats for “Spirit of the Energy Policy Act” vs “Spirit of NEPA” bout. This is based on the “productive harmony between humans and the environment” of Section 101,

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), Section 101:

…environmental decisions and actions shall be made in ways that “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.

Question: Do you think they are in conflict (other environmental laws and the Energy Policy Act), and, if so, should that be considered by a future land law review?

5 Comments

  1. One opportunity for the production of energy on public lands that was not mentioned; is the production of BioFuels from the thinning of unhealthy
    forests. This is a renewable, sustainable, multi-purpose approach to energy production, timber production, catastrophic fire prevention and overall forest health management.
    Catron County, New Mexico (Gila,Apache,Cibola NF) is an excellent case in point.
    Near perpetual energy production could be achieved; based on the amount of raw material available and the fact that by the time (Decades) the forests in the entire County were revitalized and the energy utilized; it would be time to begin again.
    The BioFuel opportunity is well worth consideration.

  2. As long as biofuels from trees remains as a happy byproduct of sensible thinning and salvage projects, it will be a win-win situation for everyone. The eco-community would like everyone to believe that clearcutting would result from biomass harvesting. Finding a use for all those excess trees is a challenge sorely-needed to make forest restoration more effective. If biomass can become more economical, we can lump on more and more non-commercial restoration activities into forest projects. This would also result in less catastrophic fires, more carbon sequestration and less dependence on fossil fuels. The blather against biomass harvesting borders on lunacy.

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