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The U.S. must lead the clean energy revolution

By Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

As managers of one-fifth of the land in the United States and 1.7 billion acres of ocean, it is time for the Department of the Interior to change how we do business and to open our doors to wise, responsible, renewable energy production on our public lands.

For at no time in our history has the need for a new energy policy been so urgent. 

We import more than two-thirds of our oil, costing us hundreds of billions of dollars a year. 

Carbon emissions are rising. 

Our national security is threatened. 

And countries like China and India are ready to cash in by leading the global clean energy economy.

With millions of new jobs at stake, this is an opportunity America can't afford to miss. We must lead the clean energy revolution, and with your help, we will spark it in the coming months by passing comprehensive energy legislation that lifts our nation's production of renewable energy and helps secure our energy future.

From coast to coast, the clean energy revolution is gaining steam. In a little over a year, the number of jobs in the U.S. wind industry has grown by more than 75 percent. 

It's estimated that if we fully pursue our potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process. As President Barack Obama has said: it's a win-win. Good for the environment, great for the economy.

To be sure, presidents since Richard Nixon have talked about energy independence, but the American people have seen few results. In four decades, our dependence on foreign oil has doubled.

So Americans rightly want to know how this time will be different. How will President Obama make good on his promise to repower America and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil? 

In large measure, the answer lies where no one before has thought to look: in the vast deserts, plains, forests, and oceans that belong to every American but which, until now, have largely been unexplored for their vast renewable energy potential. 

The clean energy potential on America's public lands is staggering. Americans have an estimated 206 gigawatts of wind energy potential on public lands in the West. An estimated 2,900 gigawatts of solar energy potential in the southwest.  And an estimated 1,000 gigawatts of wind energy potential in waters off the Atlantic coast alone.

To wisely develop these resources, the Department of the Interior has already begun to open its doors to good ideas for large-scale renewable energy projects that protect our land, water, and wildlife. 

We have, for example, done something in the first 100 days that should have been completed years ago. And that is to finally establish rules of the road for offshore wind development. It is a huge step forward that allows us to move ahead with developing America's unbridled offshore renewable energy potential. 

The Department of the Interior is also changing how it does business onshore. 

The agency has long had a mandate to support responsible oil, gas, and coal development, but we are now also opening the way for solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal projects in appropriate areas of our public lands. 

And there is strong interest from partners in the private sector. Interior's Bureau of Land Management has a backlog of some 200 solar energy applications and more than 25 wind project applications in western states. There are another 200 locations where applicants would like to begin site testing for future wind projects. 

But the backlog in permits is just not acceptable.

That is why Interior is investing $41 million through the President's economic recovery plan to facilitate a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewables on public lands.

We are also assigning high priority to completing the appropriate environmental review and permitting of transmission corridors and right-of-way applications that are necessary to deliver renewable energy to consumers. 

Of course, the path into the new energy frontier will, at times, feel steep. 

And naysayers will cry out that our country is not up to the challenge.

We have heard voices like these before. They rise each time our country determines to remake itself for a new era. 

We cannot accept that the new energy frontier is too far, or the road too rough. For the urgency of the problem-and the speed at which our world is changing-give us no choice but to transform a moment of crisis into a foundation for lasting economic growth.

We will succeed in this project of remaking America. 

We will succeed because our spirit fuels our determination and gives us hope that we can fulfill America's great promise. 

For the Record is an excerpt of a speech by Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, to the American Wind Energy Association in May 2009.


July/August 2009