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Creating a path for renewable energy on public lands

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Particularly during these contentious political times, Sustainable Northwest is pleased to work at the radical middle of economy, environment, and community to pioneer natural resource solutions that work for people and nature. We believe a healthy economy, environment, and community are indivisible, and all can be strengthened by wise partnerships, policies, and investments.

Creating a sustainable energy future is one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. It is imperative to the health of our land, air, water, and communities that we move beyond fossil fuels to sustainable energy use and generation. 

{mosads}Less than a month ago, Sustainable Northwest gathered over 60 community leaders, businesses, elected officials, and state and federal agency partners in Roseburg, Ore., to share practical tools for growing local clean energy programs. Through building connections with other like-minded communities around the state, we learned what strategies work and what barriers exist in energy planning, programming and development.

Investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency present an extraordinary opportunity to support a clean energy economy. Benefits from these investments retain energy dollars within a community, foster energy independence, create jobs, improve the health of our environment, and respond to the challenges of climate change.

Rural communities in Oregon are adjacent to some of the best renewable energy resources in the state, but are also particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change, such as declining forest health, increased drought, and resulting water shortages. Investments in clean energy not only create a platform for economic growth; they create compelling opportunities for a prosperous regional future.

Siting renewable energy has not always been a smooth process in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, in Union County, Oregon, a non-binding resolution in support of the proposed Antelope Ridge wind farm was defeated 52% to 48%. Also in 2010, wildlife and outdoor recreation interests were starting to challenge wind energy proposals on Steens Mountain, a unique area in the southeastern part of the state. Despite these contentious processes, in January 2011, a poll was conducted of 1200 Oregon, Washington and Idaho residents. It revealed that 8 in 10 rural respondents would support wind farms being developed within sight of their homes. Finding a middle ground on this issue is challenging, but more necessary than ever.

Sustainable Northwest recognizes that there are many important uses of our rural lands. In the Pacific Northwest, a significant portion of our rural lands are publicly managed by the federal government, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

BLM recently released a program for smartly siting renewable energy on the lands they manage. The BLM Wind and Solar Leasing Rule strikes the right balance between encouraging renewable energy development, while protecting wildlife and other public lands values. The agency is taking a sensible approach by streamlining the process for developers and steering construction toward areas with fewer conflicts and hurdles.

Sustainable Northwest has a proven track record of bringing together environmentalists, scientists, natural resource industries, community members — and federal agency personnel — to do what many think is impossible: talk to each other and find a solution that works for all involved.

We applaud the BLM for taking a similar approach, by listening to the concerns of both wildlife advocates and the energy industry. They have created a pathway for siting renewable energy on federal lands, one that takes into consideration the needs of a range of stakeholders.

We look forward to working with the agency and diverse stakeholders to implement the rule and continue the conversation about policies that will support a robust renewable energy future for our country.

Greg Block is Executive Director of Sustainable Northwest, a non-profit organization that brings people, ideas, and innovation together so nature, local economies, and rural communities can thrive.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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