US Department of Interior features energy as a priority

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The United States Department of the Interior has updated its regulatory priorities for the coming six months, with energy issues featured prominently.  The nation's principal steward of federal public lands and resources, the Department manages more than 500 million acres of Federal lands, including 401 park units, 560 wildlife refuges, and approximately 1.7 billion of submerged offshore acres on the Outer Continental Shelf.  These lands and waters are home to significant energy and mineral resources, including renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower, as well as oil, gas, coal, and minerals such as uranium.  The Interior Department's recently-announced priorities highlight the importance of energy issues in its regulatory agenda for 2014.
The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Energy issues are not new to the Interior Department.  Its mission statement, captioned, "Protecting America’s Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future", reads:
The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.
Twice a year, the Interior Department publishes a statement of its regulatory priorities.  The most recent statement, issued November 26, features several initiatives designed to promote the development of renewable resources on public lands.

As noted in the Department's statement, under the Obama Administration, the Department has focused on renewable energy issues and has established priorities for environmentally responsible development of renewable energy on public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf.  Energy producers and developers are investing in the development of wind farms off the Atlantic seacoast and solar, wind, and geothermal energy facilities throughout the West.  The Department announced its intent to continue its intra- and inter-departmental efforts to move forward with the environmentally responsible review and permitting of renewable energy projects on public lands, and to streamline regulatory processes to facilitate the responsible development of these resources.

Like most federal agencies, the Interior Department is organized as a collection of bureaus and offices.  These agencies include the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the 245-million-acre National System of Public Lands, located primarily in the western States, including Alaska, and the 700-million-acre subsurface mineral estate located throughout the nation.  The Bureau of Land Management's regulatory priorities include creating a competitive process for offering lands for solar and wind energy development.  Specifically, the Bureau is proposing competitive bidding for lands within designated solar and wind energy development leasing areas.  The proposed rule is designed to enhance BLM's ability to capture fair market value for the use of public lands, ensure fair access to leasing opportunities for renewable energy development, and foster the growth and development of the renewable energy sector of the economy.

If the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recent auctions for offshore wind sites on the Outer Continental Shelf are any example, the Bureau of Land Management may soon be holding competitive auctions for land-based renewable energy sites.  These auctions will likely seek to balance support for responsible resource development against conservation, as the Department also includes conservation-oriented agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Yet how these regulatory priorities translate into regulatory action -- and how that regulatory action affects the development of renewable resources -- remains to be seen. 

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