One of our many Anonymous friends asked the “how are environmental NGO’s dealing with solar and wind for federal lands?” Do they all agree?”
I’ve been collecting stories on this topic. I’m suspecting that the devil, as always lies in the details.. whether they agree with an individual project or not, not the general concept. Because in this case, at least to some groups, corporations will industrialize the landscape doing good things (providing low carbon energy) instead of bad things (providing higher carbon energy), so that’s conceptually good. Many groups use legal means to slow down or stop projects as a policy tool. It will be interesting to see if they can or do retool their policy levers to speed up favored projects.
Here’s some ideas that don’t seem particularly speedy from TWS with a cool map of existing infrastructure (see above):
Large renewable energy projects can disrupt wildlife habitat and harm wildlands if they’re not built in the right places. Since the early stages of renewable energy planning, we have learned important lessons about energy development that occurs at a large scale.
It’s encouraging to see an increase in renewable energy. The BLM has made great strides in building a responsible renewables program from scratch. Unfortunately, not all of the projects on this map are examples of this ‘smart from the start’ approach to developing energy on public lands. Mapping the BLM-approved projects does not mean that The Wilderness Society supports all of them. We simply hope to give readers a look at how much renewable energy has grown on public lands.
And here is how TWS wants BLM to do it:
SMART FROM THE START PLANNING
Find appropriate locations and ensure public input
Identify pre-screened, lower-impact zones for development and incentivize projects within them—using a process that prioritizes comprehensive tribal consultation and input from all stakeholders, especially local and traditionally underrepresented communities and Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
Protect irreplaceable wildlands
Avoid development in areas with important wildlife habitat, wildlands and cultural resources, and protect those areas.
Offset impacts that can’t be avoided with investments in habitat restoration and protection.
We might ask “but how will BLM know what’s an “important” wildland versus a “run of the mill” wildland? What if it’s important to Juan, Bill and Letitia, but not to Shaundra, Eben and Porfirio? Will neighbors’ concerns matter more than those of others, or those of local elected officials? Is this another case where “the land is owned by everyone in the country so each person’s view should count equally?”
Here’s a Bobby McGill piece on ESA and the lesser prairie chicken (this is a private land issue but there is still some tension between environmental concerns and development; and the ESA provides a legal nexus for the feds to regulate private land).
A Biden administration proposal to list the lesser prairie-chicken as endangered in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico could stymie oil and gas development in the largest U.S. petroleum basin, environmental attorneys say.
And one warns it could devastate another energy source—wind power.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the proposal to grant Endangered Species Act protection for the imperiled lesser prairie-chicken by listing it as endangered in the Permian Basin and threatened in a region centered on southwestern Kansas.
The May proposal is “at cross purposes with the Biden administration’s climate goals” to develop more renewable sources, said Brooke Marcus Wahlberg, a partner at Nossaman LLP in Austin.
An ESA listing for the lesser prairie-chicken could be devastating for the wind industry because the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a possible mile-wide zone around each wind turbine within which the agency would assume the bird could no longer live, Wahlberg said.
Within that zone, wind developers would be held liable for “take,” a legal term for killing or harassing an imperiled species, Wahlberg said.
Developers can take steps to avoid take, or obtain a Fish and Wildlife Service permit to take an endangered species, as long as they employ mitigation measures that protect the animals.
If the service finds that wind developers are eroding the prairie-chicken’s habitat, they could participate in “existing conservation programs,” or meet with agency officials to discuss other options, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Clay Nichols said, speaking through an agency spokesperson.
The Texas Panhandle on the edge of the Permian Basin is one of the country’s most productive regions for wind energy. Though the basin itself isn’t a hub for wind development, wind development is occurring close to the New Mexico-Texas border.
But avoiding or mitigating take comes at a high cost for developers.
“You end up having significant acreage that is now unusable,” Wahlberg said. “You’re in this place where the service is saying your take is reaching out to these lengths, or you’re getting a permit where your impacts estimates are so high your mitigation costs are just outrageous.”
But private conservation efforts have done little to halt the prairie-chicken’s decline, and ESA protections will help to save it while allowing oil drilling to continue, said Jason Rylander, senor ESA counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.
“There is no question in my mind it needs full protection of the Endangered Species Act,” Rylander said. “I think the important thing to remember is the ESA is a flexible tool that protects species and habitat but rarely stops development.”
For an example of authorized take (in this case of golden eagles) for wind turbines check out this USFWS site: