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Bipartisan support of federal act would enhance public lands


In the business world, executives and boards of directors make spending decisions based on costs, benefits, returns on investment and many other factors. The goal, of course, is to ensure the growth and profitability of their businesses, regardless of personal political views.

In government, members of Congress serve essentially as the country’s “board of directors” and are charged with investing in the nation’s growth, security and prosperity.

val-morrill-headshotThese days, Americans know that political views in Congress color almost every discussion about how to achieve these important goals.

However, on a topic very important to the West, members of Congress from both political parties are putting aside partisan differences to support the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, which will enhance our country’s growth, security and prosperity by promoting clean energy development on public lands. The act was re-introduced in the House of Representatives on July 17, 2019.

By supporting the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act, our elected officials are exercising their duties as our nation’s “board of directors,” setting aside partisanship to act in the best interests of our entire nation.

The act promotes the development of wind, solar and geothermal resources on the nation’s public lands by identifying priority areas and encouraging smart siting and efficient permitting of projects in places with high energy potential and lower impact on wildlife and habitat.

Once built, these new clean energy projects create new local jobs and other economic benefits without increasing tax rates. I appreciate the fact that our cash-strapped county and state governments will benefit greatly from these new revenues.

At the same time, these new revenues will fund wildlife and land conservation while laying the groundwork for more such beneficial project development.

The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act distributes revenues from renewable energy development on public lands as follows:

  • 25% would go to the state where the project is built. 
  • 25% would go to the county where the project is built. 
  • 25% of the revenue would be deposited in a fund for wildlife and land conservation and securing recreational access to public lands.
  • 15% of the revenue collected would go to the Bureau of Land Management to facilitate permitting of renewable energy projects.
  • 10% shall be deposited into the general fund of the Treasury for purposes of reducing the annual federal budget deficit.

In essence, the act spurs additional responsible renewable energy development while leveraging private-sector energy industry investments to create new economic opportunities and environmental benefits.

With the nation’s second-largest solar energy resource potential (trailing only Nevada in our wealth of solar energy resources), Arizona has 12.2 million acres of public lands and BLM has already designated three Solar Energy Zones, also known as Designated Leasing Areas, in the state – lower-conflict areas that have undergone a public stakeholder process with the goal of ensuring efficient development within them.

Two of these zones, Agua Caliente and Brenda, are located in Rep. Paul Gosar’s congressional district in western Arizona. Building utility-scale solar projects on these sites would create many hundreds – perhaps over a thousand – jobs during the construction process, along with dozens of permanent direct and indirect local jobs for the host communities. BLM also designated over 190,000 acres of additional priority solar and wind development areas across the state, expanding opportunities for lower-impact development.

A typical utility-scale solar power plant powers the needs of tens of thousands of homes and contributes millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues. The act can help spur the development of more such beneficial solar power plants. 

Developing clean energy resources in these BLM Designated Leasing Areas on Arizona’s public lands while protecting our most important wildlife habitat and cultural resources will help ensure long-term benefits for our counties, our state and for future generations who will appreciate our foresight and our careful planning for their well-being.

The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act has enjoyed strong support in recent years from diverse groups of stakeholders, ranging from outdoor recreation associations, energy developers, conservation organizations and associations representing county governments.

Thanks to Representative Gosar and his colleagues in Congress for their long advocacy in support of the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act. It gives me hope that Congress, our nation’s “board of directors,” is fulfilling its mission to grow our country’s economy, protect our security and safeguard our environment for future generations of Americans.

Valerie Morrill is director at large for the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

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