Interior gets serious about adapting to climate change

Yesterday the Department of the Interior released a sweeping new plan to address the changes wrought by climate change to federal lands.  In DOI order 3289, ( http://www.doi.gov/climatechange/SecOrder3289.pdf)September 14, 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announces that the Department of the Interior will undertake a department wide initiative to focus on the relationship of climate change to federal lands, particularly the impacts on resources and other interests under the DOI jurisdiction (including American Indians and Alaska Natives), and the new demand to deploy renewable energy on DOI lands.  The order establishes a Climate Change Response Council to deal with adapting to the effects of climate change on federal land and regional offices to coordinate all aspects of climate change policy and relationships with other agencies and law.

This is a very important signal about how the federal government plans to aggressively manage resources altered by a changing climate.  This will have impacts on habitat conservation plans, and the ease and availability of additional oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

The emphasis on renewable energy deployment is also very important.  DOI land may be some of the best for deployment of solar thermal power, and also good for wind, photo-voltaic solar, and geothermal.  However, the huge influx of requests for placement of these facilities on federal lands almost overwhelmed the agency’s capacity last year.  It is important for the agency to take a comprehensive look at these issues, weigh the costs and benefits of renewable deployment, and particularly focus on the impact such deployment could have on other interests, such as animal habitat, and water.

The reach and scope of this order are extremely important to future energy deployment and development.  Attorneys and others in Houston following these issues should be trying to understand the departments’ direction and work with them to develop appropriate responses.  One of the department’s point people on the issue, Professor Marcilynn Burke, Deputy Director of BLM Policy, and University of Houston Law Professor, is a very knowledgeable person on issues of resources, renewables, and the energy industry in general.

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