The Department of Interior has been a buzzing hive of activity lately. Earlier this week, the Secretary posted a blog “Standing Up Renewable Energy on America’s Lands and Oceans”, describing the actions taken in 2010 to advance renewable energy projects on public lands and in the ocean. The following day, the Secretary and Director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Michael Bromwich announced the next steps in repairing oversight of offshore energy activities.
As my colleague Regan Nelson discusses, the restructuring must go further to address the address the recommendations in the final report of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
But what does Interior’s activity mean for the development of offshore renewable energy?
Our nation needs to steadily, though carefully, advance the development of clean renewable energy. Salazar’s blog and the “Smart from the Start” Atlantic offshore wind initiative show a positive commitment to moving offshore renewable energy forward off the East Coast. However, as my colleague Brandi Colander discussed, one of the major challenges faced by projects such as Cape Wind in Massachusetts has been the navigation of an uncertain regulatory process. It took Cape Wind nearly a decade to be approved – this is far longer than it takes to approve new coal-fired power plants or major offshore oil and gas projects.
So far, Interior’s reorganization retains the MMS-era approach of moving offshore renewable energy and offshore oil and gas through the same oversight channels, which does not account for the major differences — in environmental impacts, scientific, and technical issues – between the two industries.
Emerging renewable technologies, such as floating wind turbines, may make renewable energy feasible in deep waters far offshore, where they are further out of site, but these new technologies and investors will require a clear beacon through the regulatory fog if we want these projects in U.S. waters. Flat Calm, photo by Flickr User Andy S-D
NRDC applauds initiatives such as “Smart from the Start”; we encourage Interior to replicate such programs to carefully advance offshore renewables in other regions of the country. This planning process should be consistent with the National Ocean Policy and principles in the President’s July 19th 2010 Executive Order, and it should connect with Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, as that moves forward. We also encourage Secretary Salazar and Director Bromwich to move ocean renewable energy planning, leasing, licensing, and regulation into a small, nimble unit in the Secretary’s office would help address the bottlenecks in the current oversight system.
Moving ocean renewables into the Secretary’s office would signal the Administration’s serious intent to advance new, clean sources of power. As offshore renewable technology and businesses mature, and the restructuring of the agencies is finalized, oversight could be moved out of the Secretary’s office into an appropriate part of the Department of Interior.
Leila Monroe is a staff attorney for the Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This was originally published on her staff blog.