A Confusing Tale of Two BLM Regs: More Protection and More Development- Who Will Win?

There are many interesting (to me) things about the Proposed BLM Rule (Conservation and Landscape Health) and I’m glad they gave us more time to post on it.

Yesterday I empathized with the Biden Admin who want to please both their protectionist friends and their renewable energy development friends. And yesterday it was also announced that

Interior Department Proposes Rule to Bolster Solar and Wind Development on Public Lands, Continue Progress on Efficient and
Responsible Permitting

WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior today announced a proposed update of its renewable energy regulations to promote the development of solar and wind energy on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Renewable Energy Rule would reduce fees for these projects by around 80%, facilitate development in priority areas by streamlining review of applications, and deliver greater certainty for the private sector.

“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our responsibility to manage the nation’s public lands responsibly and with an eye toward the increasing impacts of the climate crisis. The power and potential of the clean energy future is an undeniable and critical part of that work,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis. “Under President Biden and Secretary Haaland’s leadership, this Administration is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach toward ambitious clean energy goals that will support families, boost local economies, and help increase climate resilience in communities across the West.”

This sounds terrific, I mean why charge them at all?

Here’s what the proposed regulation says

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing to amend its existing right-of-way (ROW) regulations, issued under authority of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). The principal purpose of these amendments would be to facilitate responsible solar and wind energy development on public lands managed by the BLM. The rule would adjust acreage rents and capacity fees for solar and wind energy, provide the BLM with more flexibility in how it processes applications for solar and wind energy development inside designated leasing areas, and update agency criteria on prioritizing solar and wind applications. The rule would also make technical changes, corrections, and clarifications to the existing ROW regulations. This rule would implement the authority granted to the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) in the Energy Act of 2020 to “reduce acreage rental rates and capacity fees” to “promote the greatest use of wind and solar energy resources” and achieve other enumerated policy goals.

In the description it says..

Through the rent and fee adjustments contemplated in this rule, the BLM also expects that lower acreage rental rates and capacity fees for solar and wind energy generating facilities would translate into lower costs for energy deployment, increasing renewable energy market penetration in domestic energy production. By reducing costs to producers, these reduced rates may also reduce electricity costs to rate payers.

Let’s see.. the Feds and States already provide subsidies to wind and solar, and BLM will reduce rates that they pay, but this “may” reduce electricity costs to rate payers.  It would be nice if there were some guarantee that those  savings (conceivably given up by taxpayers) would be passed on to ratepayers.

At some point, if protectionist groups are in disagreement with industrializing federal landscapes, we can expect to see media campaigns about “welfare turbines”, echoing previous concerns about “welfare ranchers”,  royalties for oil and gas being too low, and all that.  Not that I know what they should be other than fair market value, which is enormously difficult to figure out since private and public land are rarely in direct competition.

On the other hand, if I were in the renewable industry I would wonder how these two rules would interact.  If the BLM were increasing the levers for protectionist control (the conservation rule, more intactness, more ACECs) at the same time, saying “if no one else (important to us) has a problem, we will streamline your permitting and charge you less.” Sure they would only pay 20% but first they need to lease a site.  Investors don’t like uncertainties, and there’s nothing less certain than possible long-term litigation in the federal courts.  While major ENGOs might not be on board to litigate these projects, our friends at other ENGO’s may take a different approach.

Here’s a link to the proposed regulation, called “Rights-of-Way, Leasing, and Operations for Renewable Energy.”

As usual, if anyone finds a good write-up on this, please link below.

3 thoughts on “A Confusing Tale of Two BLM Regs: More Protection and More Development- Who Will Win?”

  1. It is said that the second strongest human urge is to justify. It can be entertaining to follow the justification gymnastics that agencies come up with sometimes. Anyone who has written NEPA documents has had to fine tune their justification skills.

    Subsidies come about when the powers that be determine a given project benefits society sufficiently that it is worth spending taxpayers dollars on it. The powers that be probably have too much power.

    The Biden administration has also determined that shipping logs by rail to far off mills is worth subsidizing to the tune of $50 million. And let’s face it, above cost timber sales are as rare as hen’s teeth. But, an excellent justifier can justify almost anything.

  2. Any conflicts would be resolved by the land use planning process. The conservation rule requires that for areas to protect or conservation lease. This rule would do the same for solar and wind energy development inside “designated leasing areas,” which are:

    “Areas for solar and wind energy development with low potential for conflict with resources or uses due to environmental, cultural, and other relevant criteria, which the BLM will identify by;
    (i) Assessing the demand for new or expanded areas;
    (ii) Applying environmental, cultural, and other screening criteria; and
    (iii) Analyzing proposed areas through the land use planning process described in part 1600 of this chapter.”

    So maybe a national effort to amend BLM plans for conservation and energy (along with Forest Service plans for fire)? There must be some of that infrastructure money, at least for the energy part? (I can’t tell if my tongue is my cheek or not.)

    • This would have been logical to engage in when this Admin came in.. also identify the areas needed for associated powerlines. I wonder why they didn’t?


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