Revving the "engine"

 

It’s become something of an Obama administration mantra: The latest economic stimulus package will help jumpstart the U.S.’s green economy. And at a press conference Feb. 20, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar repeated it yet again, as he spoke on how the Department of Interior, which oversees agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, will use its $3 billion in stimulus funds.

“My hope and vision,” he told reporters, is that public lands will serve as an “engine for the clean energy economy.”

But wait. That sounds an awful lot like making our public lands the engine of energy independence -- by tapping their bountiful reserves of natural gas at the expense of pristine lands, and clean air and water. The first reporter to question Salazar ran with that theme: Can the department allow quick development of utility-scale renewable energy and transmission lines while at the same time preserving other public land values like wildlife habitat? he asked. And will that mean altering environmental oversight in some way to expedite permitting and construction?

Given the environmental and social impacts past energy booms have had on the West, that’s a pair of worthy questions. Disappointingly (and, perhaps, predictably), Salazar sidestepped both. The money will go toward energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to federal facilities, he explained. When pushed, he added that the Interior will lay out a  “foundation” and defined “plans” for proceeding with renewable energy development on public lands, but was sketchy on details because the department is still hammering out its policies.

Finally though, he came back around to something of a direct answer: “As we move forward, we will need to be mindful of and make sure to address other environmental values . . . There may be some tradeoffs.”

Granted, the fossil fuel industry got a lot more attention from the previous administration than renewables did. While renewable energy financial incentives languished in Congress and development rules were endlessly delayed in federal land agencies, oil and gas companies enjoyed relaxed regulations, expedited permitting, and weak environmental oversight. Giving the big polluters those bennies on public land was a mistake. But it would also be a mistake to give them to the “clean” energy industry. Wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and their transmission lines – especially industrial-scale projects – all have impacts that need to be recognized and dealt with. Hopefully, the Department of Interior will act accordingly.

As the department continues to develop more specific plans (which can be accessed via website) for its economic stimulus dough between now and May, here are some things besides renewable energy mandates that are worth watching for:

-    How the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that brought us all those happy dams between the 1930s and the 1960s, will spend the $1 billion they received from the stimulus.


-    How the Interior Department will use the funds to engage young people in conservation work, and potentially natural resource careers with federal land agencies (most of which have graying workforces).


-    Where the agency will direct a chunk of money it received for abandoned mine cleanup.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!