In remarks Oct. 31 at the National Press Club, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she has issued her first Secretarial Order, which calls for a Department-wide mitigation strategy.
The order, she said, will ensure consistency and efficiency in the review and permitting of new energy and other infrastructure development projects, while also providing for the conservation, adaptation and restoration of our nation’s valuable and natural and cultural resources.
A number of renewable energy projects are being permitted and develop on land under Interior’s control, including at the Bureau of Land Management.
“This Order will help Interior create a simpler, more straightforward approach for businesses to be good partners and good stewards of our public lands,” said Jewell. “Today we have an unprecedented opportunity – using science and technology to create a better understanding of landscapes than ever before – to advance important conservation goals and achieve our development objectives. We know it doesn’t have to be an either-or.”
Jewell also said: “The President believes that we have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave our land, water, and wildlife better than we found it. That’s why he launched the America’s Great Outdoors program in 2010. That’s why he’s taking comprehensive action to cut carbon pollution and to slow the effects of climate change. And that’s why he has used his authority time and time again to protect some of the places that Americans love most.”
Jewell said her agency is seeking to meet President Obama’s goal of approving 20,000 MW of renewable energy on public lands by 2020 – a goal toward which her predecessor, Ken Salazar, made huge strides.
“For example, in California, we’re working with the state on a plan to help site renewable energy,” Jewell noted. “The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan will blend science and satellite data to identify areas of high energy potential and high-priority conservation lands in the Mojave Desert.”
Task force formed to report back to Jewell in 90 days
Jewell’s Oct. 31 order said in part: “Development of all types – whether for renewable or conventional energy development, transmission, mineral extraction, or other purposes – has impacts on the Nation’s landscapes and natural and cultural resources. The Department of the Interior has significant review and permitting responsibilities over infrastructure development projects both on and off public lands. In executing those duties, the Department seeks to avoid potential environmental impacts from projects through steps such as advanced landscape-level planning that identifies areas suitable for development because of low or relatively low natural and cultural resource conflicts. Where impacts cannot be avoided altogether, the Department must work to ensure that projects minimize impacts to the extent practicable.”
Jewell ordered the creation of an Interior task force that will formulate mitigation strategies across the department. One goal is to provide predictability for developers and also enhance the ability of federal and state agencies to invest in larger-scale conservation efforts.
To facilitate the initial development of the mitigation strategy, the task force will first conduct a comprehensive review of the mitigation aspects of existing land and water management practices and procedures, permitting, and environmental review authorities, regulations, and guidance, including but not limited to the National Environmental Policy Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.
As part of this review, the task force will assess the role of existing department-wide and partnership programs, such as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. The task force will also seek input from regulatory agencies and partners outside of the department with experience implementing mitigation programs in infrastructure projects and land management decisions, such as state agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense and Transportation.
The task force will draft a strategy for developing additional policies and practices or any regulatory or other changes, including a timeline for implementation with designated agency leads. Within 90 days of the effective date of the Oct. 31 order, the task force will provide a report to Jewell summarizing its evaluation and strategy for implementing improvements in the department’s mitigation practices and policies.