Smart Renewable Energy on Public Lands
Guest post by Hayley Connolly-Newman
Earlier this month, the EPA issued guidelines which would reduce coal generated power in each state by 6 percent over the next 15 years. This would give states the opportunity to reduce carbon emission amounts by choosing from other types of energy such as natural gas or renewable resources to improve their energy efficiency. In Montana, wind energy is set to play a role in achieving these new standards. Wind energy production has steadily grown in Montana over the last decade. A recently published economic report says Montana will support roughly 4,000 renewable energy jobs in the next 20 years.There is no question that wind farms have an impact on the landscape. But what if there was a way to mitigate the effects renewable development has on public lands, while identifying areas with low impact and high renewable energy potential?
The Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act does just that. Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, with support from Senator Walsh and Representative Daines, along with most of the western delegation, the bill streamlines wind and solar permitting on public lands. The bill also creates a revenue share that is distributed between the state, county, and conservation projects in the region. As an organizer, I’m often asked what this means on the ground. What kind of restoration projects would get funded? How would it affect the surrounding region?The list of habitat restoration, improvement, preservation, and access projects around the state of Montana is daunting. Many of these projects require multiple years of management and a long-term source of funding. An example of this is along the hi-line in northern Montana. In many areas along the hi-line, the prolific seeding of crested wheat grass has overlapped with sage grouse habitat. Although not considered an invasive species, crested wheat grass is a non-native species, and is typically used by land managers for soil stabilization and control over more invasive species. The same characteristics that make it a good choice for range managers create a mono-crop in the system, and can displace native species and reduce overall species diversity. Historically the area had been prime sage grouse habitat, but decades of farming degraded much of the habitat from sage brush prairie to mono-crop grasslands. Sage grouse cannot thrive in homogeneous stands of a single plant species. Wildlife managers have started small scale sagebrush restoration projects, but there are thousands of acres that still need to be returned to a more diverse array of native grassland species.
Renewable energy on public land will not only help Montana reduce carbon emissions, but restore and maintain public lands, create jobs, and ensure our energy security into the future.
Please urge your delegation to move this important piece of legislation forward towards a hearing. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office. Ask to speak to the member of the staff who works on environmental, agricultural or appropriations issues. Tell them you would like to see the Public Lands Renewable Development Act get the hearing it deserves!
About the Author
Hayley was recently hired by National Wildlife Federation to help organize smart development of renewable energy on public lands in Montana. She received her M.S. from University of Montana focusing on road ecology and wildlife habitat corridors. In her spare time she can usually be found outside, whether it be exploring the mountains on horseback or perfecting her cast on one of Montana’s many scenic rivers.