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OR Counties Support New Leasing Plans for Public Lands

PHOTO: Some of eastern Oregon's public land could be prime for solar or wind development, and legislation in Congress would ensure that counties get a cut of the revenue. Photo courtesy sunpowercorp.com.
PHOTO: Some of eastern Oregon's public land could be prime for solar or wind development, and legislation in Congress would ensure that counties get a cut of the revenue. Photo courtesy sunpowercorp.com.
January 2, 2014

SALEM, Ore. – This weekend, outdoors enthusiasts and some county officials from western states are flying into the nation’s capital for a New Year's chat with their representatives in Congress, starting Monday.

They're seeking action on legislation to revamp the way public land is leased for wind and solar projects.

The Public Lands and Renewable Energy Development Act creates a pilot program to treat renewables more like oil and gas, with the developers paying royalties.

Gary Thompson, first vice president of the Association of Oregon Counties, says his group is on board because the money would be split to benefit the state, the counties and the land itself.

"Twenty-five percent back to the state, 25 percent to the counties, 15 percent to the permitting agency,” he says. “And 35 percent would go to fund fish and wildlife habitat, conservation and recreational enhancements."

Funding for protecting fish and wildlife has also gained the approval of groups such as Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation. But the bill has been stuck in U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's Energy and Natural Resources Committee for almost a year, despite bipartisan support.

And in the House, Rep. Greg Walden is the only member of Congress from Oregon who isn't a co-sponsor.

Thompson, who is also a Sherman County judge, says his area wouldn't be affected much by a change to a royalty-based leasing system – but he sees its potential, particularly in eastern Oregon.

"I think it's an excellent idea for some of these rural counties made up of 75-80 percent federal lands,” he says. “There's a lot of good solar and wind and renewable opportunity. This is one way to help get some additional dollars in to help support the counties."

The bill is co-sponsored by lawmakers from other western states that also have substantial amounts of federal land poised for a renewable-energy boom.



Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR