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Report: Conservation leasing could speed clean energy development on public land

The Foote Creek Rim wind farm in Wyoming
The Foote Creek Rim wind farm in Wyoming

Conservation leasing is one element of the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Public Lands Rule, and a new report says such a policy could aid the development of clean energy.

That report, from the progressive Center for American Progress, notes that when developers propose clean energy projects like solar and wind farms, they can be required to carry out so-called “compensatory mitigation.” That could be habitat restoration to make up for damage caused by the project.

Such mitigation often happens on private lands, sometimes far from the project. The proposed rule would open the door for renewable energy-related mitigation on BLM land. The report argues that the Biden administration’s plan to permit 25 gigawatts of clean energy projects on public lands by 2025 makes the prospect of conservation leasing even more important.

“When you're talking about deploying a lot more clean energy across public lands, particularly in places where there may not be as much private land available or private land values are high, it can make a lot more sense financially for a company,” report author Drew McConville told the Mountain West News Bureau.

Industry has criticized the conservation lease proposal, voicing concern that it would block access to oil and gas.

“BLM’s proposed rule goes far beyond the authority Congress granted BLM and is simply unlawful,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said in a statement, adding that the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act “gives some conservation authority to BLM, but not in the broad way that BLM is trying to stretch it.”

“If finalized as proposed, this rule is extremely legally vulnerable,” Sgamma argued.

Public comment on the BLM rule is open until June 20.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Hey everyone! I’m Murphy Woodhouse, Boise State Public Radio’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter.

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