A 21st Century Approach to Balancing Development and Conservation of Public Resources


By U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor

Today President Obama issued an historic Presidential Memorandum, identifies the key principles and processes needed to implement a landscape-scale mitigation approach to, as the Secretary noted introducing her Order at the National Press Club in 2013, help “balance the inherent tensions that can exist with development and conservation.” The policy follows through on a commitment made in a 2014 report to the Secretary from her Energy and Climate Change Task Force: Strategy for Improving the Mitigation Policies and Practices of the Department of the Interior. With the Departmental policy in place, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Fish and Wildlife Service will soon also provide policies to further implement this approach through their programs.

By establishing landscape-scale mitigation requirements up front in the planning and permitting process, this approach provides project proponents with more certainty and clarity in their projects while also supporting environmental goals for impacted resources at scales necessary to protect them over the long term. At the same time, the Secretary notes that by guiding development to the areas of low environmental value, the Department can reduce the likelihood of conflict and costly delays while streamlining permit processes. 

Similar to the greater sage-grouse effort, the Department is using a landscape-level mitigation approach as we seek to meet President Obama's goal of approving 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020. Since 2009, the BLM has already approved 57 renewable energy projects (34 solar, 11 wind and 12 geothermal), with the potential to provide more than 15,000 megawatts of generating capacity when all of them are online, or enough capacity to power more than five million homes and create about 26,000 jobs.

By applying this approach to planning, the BLM completed the environmental reviews for three proposed utility-scale solar energy projects in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone in Clark County, Nevada in less than six months. By contrast, reviews of similar large solar projects under the previous project-by-project system took on average 18 to 24 months to complete. This type of smart, balanced approach to development dramatically improves our ability to permit more renewable and traditional forms of energy development to power America’s future. 

As the President and Secretary have both emphasized, we must always take the long view. We must always keep in mind that public lands are a trust, one that we manage for generations to come. As a foundation for 21st century public lands management, this landscape-level approach to mitigation strikes the right balance for conservation and development and will help ensure that we serve our nation's needs both now and far into the future.

The Department's new policy is available for viewing here.