I first heard about this idea from something on Jared Polis’s (Colorado’s now-governor) website. The fundamental idea is that public lands should not be used for oil and gas production, but should be used for more wind and solar production.
It is conceivable that different uses could co-exist on public lands (at least wind, and oil and gas, and grazing) as they do on private lands in Kansas and Colorado (and no doubt elsewhere). But the case being made seems to be that one group should be removed from public lands (oil and gas) and another group increased (solar and wind). It seems that it is framed as “either/or” and not “both/and.” And yet, oil and gas production has some commonalities with solar and wind.
First, solar and wind also have environmental impacts. Second, they can also be unaesthetic, and thereby potentially incompatible with recreation. Third, they tend to impact a greater surface area of land (than oil and gas), and fourth, they may require transmission lines instead of roads. I don’t know the relative impacts, but I do know that many environmental groups don’t seem to like new roads or transmission lines on public lands. fourth, solar and wind generate electricity which can’t substitute for fuel currently used in heating and transportation immediately, so there would be a transition during which fossil fuels will come from elsewhere. For me, these are all considerations.
What’s interesting about this Outside story is that it takes for granted the idea that carbon is emitted by production on federal lands, and that stopping it will simply reduce carbon emissions. If we import oil and gas from other countries and use the same amount, it is difficult for me to see that that makes a positive difference to the environment (while making a negative difference to state coffers). If importing increases prices and decreases energy security, then it might not be a good thing at all for folks who depend on oil and gas products for heating and transportation, and are on the poor end of the financial spectrum.
Here’s the link to the Outside story.
Federal lands hold tremendous untapped potential for unleashing a renewables boom and sucking down the carbon dioxide that’s warming the globe, Huntley and other energy-policy experts say. While federal lands hold significant oil, gas, and coal reserves, they also have some of the nation’s best solar and wind resources. Yet TWS estimates that less than 5 percent of U.S. power from renewables is generated on federal land. The BLM alone manages more than 20 million acres with wind-energy potential in the 11 western states. Largely because of renewable-energy pushes from previous administrations, the BLM has approved about 11,000 megawatts worth of solar, wind, and geothermal projects.
But with some significant exceptions, such as the Ivanpah megasolar facility on BLM lands in California, which went online in 2014 and now powers 140,000 homes around the West, the renewable potential of the vast open landscapes of the federal estate is underdeveloped. And if oil and gas development is phased out under a Green New Deal bill—or any other legislation that tamps down greenhouse-gas emissions—renewables development on federal lands will be crucial to replace that energy.
Renewable-energy development is not without its own environmental consequences, though. The massive Ivanpah solar-thermal project, for example—at the time the largest solar facility in the world—disturbed habitat for the desert tortoise, blue-gray gnatcatcher, and other wildlife and forever changed the scenery in the Mojave Desert. Bird and bat deaths from encounters with wind turbines are well-documented. But conservation groups say that much has been learned from Ivanpah and other renewable-development projects about how to plan, develop, and monitor them in a way that reduces their impacts. Measures adopted through legislation could ensure that new projects avoid the mistakes of the past, they say.
It’s also interesting that conservation groups think that the renewable energy industry can reduce their impacts through improved monitoring and so on. I am curious as to why some industries seem to get the benefit of the doubt with regard to the environment and public lands (solar, wind) but others do not (timber, grazing, oil and gas).
Oh, and forests are mentioned in the article as well.