With national media dominated by BP’s cleanup effort in the Gulf Coast and images of dead fish and oil-fouled birds and beaches, advocates of a new domestic energy future have had little to cheer in recent months.
Outside of the hullabaloo of the BP fiasco, Sen. Jon Tester has found a bipartisan path forward for a clean-energy economy. The Clean Energy, Community Investment and Wildlife Conservation Act co-sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Tester and in the House by Dean Heller, R-Nev., provides a road map for developing clean energy from the public lands that comprise nearly 30 percent of Montana.
The bill would help to generate revenues for states and counties in areas where the leasing of public lands for wind and solar development occurs while also setting aside funds so that the federal government can more quickly permit wind and solar development. It would also require that water resources, special areas and critical fish and wildlife habitat are protected.
Since Jon Tester introduced Montana’s renewable-energy standard when he was still a state senator, Montana wind production has increased from less than one megawatt to almost 400 megawatts today with more on the way.
The bill would allocate 35 percent of revenues from leasing of solar and wind power to secure public access for hunting and fishing, mitigate the effects of development on fish and wildlife habitat, and allow for the protection of the most important fish and wildlife habitats.
This last point is vital. Hunting and fishing are a part of the rich cultural fabric of the West, and Montana boasts the highest percentage of hunters and anglers of any state in the country — for good reason. Montana’s cold, clean water and pristine public lands offer some of the best hunting and fishing on the planet.
Tester’s bill makes clear that while we must develop homegrown sources of clean energy, we cannot allow production to compromise the productive capacity of the lands and waters that sustain Montana, and the nation.
Over the last decade, the federal government dramatically accelerated the production of domestic oil and gas resources. The effect on publicly owned lands has been profound. For example, from 1999 to 2008, the number of approved oil and gas permits on public lands increased by 260 percent.
During that period, the U.S. Congress allowed oil and gas companies to develop oil and gas without the need to comply with sections of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act — requirements that keep our rivers, streams and lakes healthy. In addition, longstanding public involvement and environmental review requirements were relaxed. As a result, sportsmen in Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado have witnessed the impacts of traditional oil and gas development on fish, wildlife, and water resources.
Tester’s bill is not perfect. His proposal should be improved by making solar and wind leasing pilot programs permanent. It would also benefit by creating a process for local people, sportsmen, and development interests to advise the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service where, and at what scale, solar and wind development should occur.
What Tester offers is an affirmation that we will use our commonly owned lands to model how the nation can meet its energy needs without compromising the resources and hunting and angling legacies that define Montana.
Chris Wood is president and CEO of Trout Unlimited in Arlington, Va.