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Poll: Renewables, Conservation Can Co-exist on Public Land

September 13, 2012

LOGAN, Utah - In western states, including Utah, party lines practically disappear in a new poll about balancing renewable-energy development with protection for public lands.

Nearly three out of four voters in 11 states said they favor producing wind and solar power on federal lands. Pollster Christine Matthews of Bellweather Research says respondents' political views didn't seem to factor into their answers.

"In fact, it reflects the kind of bipartisan, nonpartisan perspective that voters have on this particular issue. You see a little bit stronger support among Democrats - 84 percent support this concept - but two-thirds of both independents and Republicans also support it."

Seventy-two percent of those polled said if land is going to be rented to wind or solar developers, at least some of the proceeds should stay in local communities to improve the remaining public lands in the area. Chase Huntley, clean-energy policy director for The Wilderness Society, says there are plenty of precedents for doing that - but Congress hasn't stepped in to make it happen with renewables.

"It's my belief that because Congress has never passed legislation specifically addressing wind and solar development on public lands, there is no system in place - unlike with geothermal, with oil, with coal, with natural gas, with locatable minerals."

Pending legislation would change that. Three bills in Congress - HR 5991, HR 6154 and S 1775 - would divert money now going to the feds to counties and states instead, to be used for boosting conservation and recreation.

If money was set aside for conservation, the pollsters also asked how it should be used - for parks and refuges, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, or creating new hunting and fishing areas. All got high percentages, and Ken Theis of Logan, Backcountry Anglers' Utah coordinator, says he's pleased with the results.

"I thought that that showed that there was a lot of interest, and actually more awareness of the need to do that than I expected - using some of the funds for habitat restoration, and access for hunting areas - but I was pleasantly surprised to see that kind of support."

The poll of almost 2,000 voters was taken during the first week of August.

Poll information is online at wilderness.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT