Rule would boost solar and wind energy on public lands

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration took action Thursday to boost development of solar and wind energy on public lands, part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to develop cleaner domestic energy and reduce emissions blamed for global warming.

A final rule announced by the Interior Department would create a new leasing program on public lands and encourage development in areas where it would have fewer effects on the environment.

The rule came a little more than two months before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, and a new Republican administration could reconsider the rule or even scrap it.

The Interior Department said the rule would encourage renewable energy on the nation’s vast swaths of public lands while generating millions of dollars in revenue.

“We are facilitating responsible renewable energy development in the right places, creating jobs and cutting carbon pollution for the benefit of all Americans,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Obama has called on the Interior Department to approve renewable energy projects that generate 20,000 megawatts of power on public land by 2020 — enough to power about 7 million homes. The department said the rule’s competitive leasing provisions will apply to 700,000 acres of public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

Environmental groups hailed the rule, calling it common-sense reform to protect natural resources while encouraging development of renewable energy.

Industry groups have said the current permitting system works and a new rule could increase uncertainty and costs in highly competitive electricity markets.

By prioritizing development in designated “low-conflict areas” where there is general agreement about development, the rule should make the permitting process more efficient while protecting wildlands and wildlife habitat from development, said Alex Daue of the Wilderness Society, an environmental group.

“With at least one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in this country coming from public lands, we know that they must play a role in addressing climate change,” Daue said.

Christopher Mansour, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the group was reviewing the rule, but hopes it “paves the way for increased solar development at predictable rates on public lands.”

Lands managed by the Interior Department include some of the world’s best solar resources, “and they should be used to deliver clean, reliable and cost-effective solar power to

customers,” Mansour said.