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Renewable Power Projects on Federal Lands: Wind and Sun and the FLPMA Right-Of-Way -- is It Working?

Rebecca W. Watson, Maria Garton, Wylie Levone, Energy Development: Access, Siting, Permitting, and Delivery on Public Lands

There is a fundamental disconnect between the policy goals of the new Administration2 and of Congress to encourage significant and rapid development of renewable energy resources on public lands and existing congressional and agency direction on permitting projects on federal land. In short, the federal right-of-way authorization is ill-suited for rapid development of green energy. But is hope on the way? This paper focuses on the intersection of current federal policy regarding the development of renewable energy resources, especially wind and solar energy, on the one hand, and federal laws, regulations, policy and practice governing land use by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on the other. In particular, the emphasis of this paper is on the BLM right-of-way (ROW) permitting process as the regulatory framework for the use of federal land for utility-scale renewable energy projects. Although there are significant challenges, the Department of Interior, BLM and Congress are looking at ways to improve the ROW process to expedite renewable energy project development.

After an introduction to the ROW framework and applicable federal laws and regulations and an overview of current federal renewable energy policy in Section I, Section II considers the challenges raised by the current ROW framework for permitting of wind and solar projects. Section III then reviews what