New Energy Future: The Role of Public Lands in Clean Energy Production and Carbon Capture

Posted by Billie Gross
December 10, 2009
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Speaks at COP-15 U.S. Center

Watch events live from the U.S. Center in Copenhagen. Follow the U.S. Center on YouTube and Flickr.About the Author: Billie Gross serves as Public Affairs Specialist for the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She is currently on assignment at the U.S. Center in Copenhagen.

At COP-15, U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar spoke before an audience attending today’s keynote event, “New Energy Future: The Role of Public Lands in Clean Energy Production and Carbon Capture,” at the U.S. Center. The U.S. Department of the Interior manages one-fifth of the nation's landmass, huge expanses of ocean off U.S. coasts, and the energy and mineral estate owned by the American people.

During his presentation, Secretary Salazar described how the Department of Interior is transforming the way we manage our public lands to harness their massive potential for renewable energy production and for capturing carbon. He said that if we are to tackle the climate crisis, our lands and oceans must be managed to serve three new and critical functions: renewable energy production, carbon capture and storage, and climate adaptation. U.S. public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) contain great potential for renewable energy production: wind off the Atlantic coast, solar in the deserts of the Southwest, and geothermal across the country. These resources can help build a clean energy future as well as rebuild our economy. According to Secretary Salazar, some estimate that if the U.S. fully pursues its 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.

In the past year, the Department of the Interior has created the first-ever U.S. framework for offshore renewable energy development. They opened Renewable Energy Coordinating offices in U.S. Western states to speed the process of implementing renewable energy projects on public lands and invested $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.

What I found most interesting today was Secretary Salazar’s announcement that the Department’s science agency, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has completed an important first phase of its work on its biological carbon sequestration assessment. The USGS has found that plants and soils in the lower 48 states currently store almost 90 billion metric tons of carbon – which is the equivalent of around 50 years of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions at current levels. All together, terrestrial ecosystems in the U.S. are soaking up carbon equivalent to about 30% of U.S. fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

This biological assessment will provide accurate carbon storage data to guide land management decisions, thus becoming an invaluable tool for nations and communities around the world.

Under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, the Department of the Interior has prioritized the rapid and responsible development of large-scale renewable energy projects on public lands and oceans, thus reaffirming the U.S. commitment to lead the fight against climate change through robust domestic action.

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