In looking around the comment letters, I ran across one by the Center for American Progress. Now this is a “big deal” political think tank, and one, who in the past I don’t remember engaging in our federal lands issues. They are notably anti-oil and gas and pro- 30 x 30 (e.g photo above; presumably roads for oil and gas on ridgetops, bad, roads for wind turbines on ridgetops, good. So when I said “to not involve state elected leaders, someone big must be involved” CAP sounds like a likely candidate. CAP claims to be nonpartisan, but isn’t, and clearly has a seat at the table (perhaps an entire sectional sofa).
CAP’s tagline for this article is:
A proposed tool included in the Bureau of Land Management’s Public Lands Rule would allow more efficient and responsible deployment of clean energy projects while benefiting U.S. lands, waters, and wildlife.
With this proposal, the BLM is giving clean energy and other project developers another way to meet their mitigation requirements and minimize natural resource conflicts. At the same time, the agency is unlocking a powerful tool to help restore and conserve U.S. public lands that perennially suffer from inadequate federal funding.
As proposed, these leases are essentially legal agreements that would allow a private entity or Tribe to conduct compensatory mitigation on BLM-managed public lands over a period of time that matches the time frame of anticipated project impacts.
Of course, project impacts for wind and solar are forever, unlike oil and gas projects. This is a very neat solution, as it could give legal rights for much greater chunks of land off the footprint of the installations themselves to corporate (or other entities) essentially forever. It seems to me a bit like “privatization of public lands” which used to be a bad thing, but..
Since the desires of some ENGO’s are for “permanent protections”, this makes a lot of sense for them. I’m not so sure that it makes sense for the developers, though, who need to do the improvement projects and also pay for the leases. But heck, renewables are getting an 80% rate cut in another proposed rule, so maybe they’ll have plenty of money for leases. And not so sure it’s a great deal for BLM employees nor for the rest of us who have another not yet litigated complexity set down in the morass of existing regulations.
The CAP article has two very nice examples of how the BLM does mitigation on federal land without apparently needing conservation leasing.
In June 2022, the BLM and California authorities announced the first restoration project that puts this agreement into action. To address impacts of solar development occurring on private lands, state-required mitigation is funding ecosystem restoration on 158,000 acres in the California Desert Conservation Area located in Kern County.14 Restoration projects, including rehabilitation of unauthorized trails, will help improve habitat for the desert tortoise, Mohave ground squirrel, burrowing owl, and American badger, while also improving overall ecosystem health and function. Subsequently, another solar company, Avantus, announced an agreement to offset impacts of its development through a 215,000-acre mitigation project on BLM lands in this same region.15
In other states, the BLM has identified specific degraded public lands that are good candidates for mitigation projects to offset anticipated impacts from solar energy projects in designated leasing areas, known as solar energy zones. For example, the agency’s regional mitigation strategies for solar energy zones in Arizona16 and Nevada17 identify certain designated “areas of critical environmental concern” on BLM lands as ideal places for mitigation projects to offset anticipated impacts of solar development on nearby public lands. Such projects could become good options for conservation leasing agreements in the future.
Like the letter from the Public Lands Foundation, I must ask, if the BLM can already do on-federal land mitigation without leases, why does it need leases? After all, we’re supposed to interested in “saving companies time and resources” see bullet below. and hopefully BLM folks and the rest of us as well. I’ve definitely got a vibe of hornswoggling here.
I thought that this was a cheerful thought by CAP but .. not very realistic. I could be wrong.. time will tell. Reduced concerns are not alleviated concerns, and unalleviated concerns in the right hands lead to litigation.
- Better natural resource outcomes reduce the risk of conflict and litigation. More effectively offsetting a project’s unavoidable impacts should also benefit the developers and timelines of those projects. Responsible companies want to reduce the net impacts of their projects, but more effective offsets can also reduce concerns from local conservationists, community members, and other land users, saving companies time and resources and allowing them to avoid conflicts and potentially even litigation.
CAP also doesn’t want to wait for RMP’s.. because they’re… too slow, and possibly, involve people who disagree with them. Maybe the Biden Admin should propose a new efficient process for RMPs instead?
BLM should finalize a strengthened Public Lands Rule that provides additional clarity and direction to ensure agency staff implement the vision outlined in the proposal efficiently and
transparently. Recognizing that the process for updating RMPs has historically been slow and that this pace doesn’t match the urgent need to conserve vulnerable public resources, BLM should also evaluate opportunities to accelerate action to achieve the Public Lands Rule’s goals.
This should include considering mechanisms to act promptly on ACEC proposals and to move as rapidly as possible to identify priority intact landscapes and priority ecosystem resilience areas for conservation.
It’s OK to want what you want to happen on federal lands. And politicals notably want to reward their friends, punish their enemies, and keep both those in place long after they’ve been elected.
I just wish there were a way to do it that didn’t involve abstraction word-salads and a lot more work for the beleaguered BLM employees, partners, and industries; and possibly litigation for the next ten years at least. And one that was built collaboratively with States, who, after all, themselves have a great deal of responsibility for conservation. As per the Sage Grouse efforts.