Thursday, April 16, 2009

Climate change will put competing demands on public lands

America's public lands are going to be needed for green energy projects - solar and wind - and to store more water, as climate changes progress. John Leshy, former Solicitor for the Interior Dept. and now a law professor at UC Berkeley, offered a broad view of the critical role of public lands in the new century, as the main speaker at tonight's dinner for the Morris K. Udall Foundation Board meeting here in Tucson.

Leshy said current proposals for wind and solar energy projects on public lands would cover 50 million acres, an area the size of Idaho. A solar farm can pretty much become the exclusive user of the land it covers. He predicted that national environmental groups may opt out of opposing such an industrial facility as it might for other types of industry because of the larger national and global societal needs. This would leave local opponents to fight on their own, or although he didn't say it explicitly, be pitted against the national groups that traditionally have been allies in preserving open lands.

My own experience confirms this vision. In Kansas, as the governor's energy advisor, I saw the Sierra Club and Audubon Society on opposing sides over wind energy. The Sierra Club saw the need for alternatives to fossil fuels, while Audubon worried about the impacts on birds.

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