The commitment by the Biden administration and Congress to expand renewable energy development on public lands by 2025 to address climate change, while at the same time conserving 30 percent of public lands and water by 2030, is an ambitious target. One federal agency is taking a smart approach to addressing this challenge.
Most onshore renewable energy developments on public lands are in areas run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the largest federal land manager. The BLM has the tough task of expanding renewable energy projects while balancing the additional goal of conserving lands and water. Although this may seem difficult, it is not impossible, especially for an agency like the BLM that is accustomed to managing lands for multiple uses. The agency is balancing climate mitigation and conservation by using smart-from-the-start planning principles.
Our team of non-governmental partners from Defenders of Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council are proud to partner with the BLM and contribute to the agency’s smart-from-the-start planning. Our initial engagement with the BLM helped inform the BLM Southern Nevada District’s smart-from-the-start process for reviewing and prioritizing new, large-scale renewable energy projects applications. The BLM recently adopted southern Nevada’s renewable energy prioritization program agency-wide through the Initial Screening and Prioritization for Solar and Wind Energy Applications and Nominations Instruction Memorandum (IM).
The IM directs the agency to prioritize staff resources toward the processing of high-priority solar and wind energy applications in Designated Leasing Areas (DLAs). The BLM will consider proposed projects outside of DLAs as a lower priority. Prioritizing projects in DLAs and ensuring those areas are built out first demonstrates the BLM’s commitment to achieving 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2025—part of President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad—in a manner that will not jeopardize the natural and cultural resource values that exist across our federal lands.
Putting the new policy into practice, the BLM recently opened the 1,635-acre Dry Lake East DLA northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, to competitive leasing for new solar energy projects. The BLM previously analyzed the area for potential resource impacts and found it to have competitively fewer conservation values than other locations. By opening the DLA for bid nominations, the agency is prioritizing large-scale solar energy development in areas with fewer social and environmental conflicts.
This smart-from-the-start approach to renewable energy planning avoids new disturbance in areas with higher conservation values, a strategy that is critical for maintaining important wildlife habitat, cultural resources and recreation opportunities. The outcome is a win-win for climate and conservation, and Defenders is proud to have played a part.
This blog was written collaboratively by Defenders of Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.