There is nothing a president can do to force Congress to pass climate bills, but President Obama has advanced more renewable energy than any other, anyway. The executive branch does have jurisdiction over granting energy leases on 245 million acres of public lands through the cabinet level Department of the Interior‘s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Obama has made adroit use of this.
For the first time ever, the BLM has approved solar and wind projects on public lands. And it is a staggering amount of energy. Since the beginning of this administration, the BLM has approved a total of 27 utility-scale renewable energy projects amounting to 6.6 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy on BLM lands: 16 solar projects, four wind farms and seven geothermal plants.
While the 27 projects approved so far, including 19 last year, is astonishing enough, quadrupling the amount of renewable energy ever approved on public lands to 6.6 GW – this year, we could see double the amount of power permitted over the last three years. For 2012 alone, the BLM has targeted an additional 7 GW in 17 projects (nine solar, six wind and two geothermal), bringing the total approvals to 13.6 GW of generating capacity.
This administration’s use of the BLM to advance renewables is unprecedented. Public lands have traditionally been open season for oil and gas leases, not solar or wind leases. In a century or more of public land leases, only 1.8 GW of any renewable energy (mostly geothermal and hydro from long ago) has ever been permitted on BLM land.
This would appear to be an end run around a Congress noted for obstruction, not only of all Democratic legislation, but very particularly, of Democratic renewable energy and climate legislation.
The already-approved 27 projects’ 6.6 GW is enough to power 2.3 million out of the nation’s 102 million households. With the 2012 permits adding up to another 7 GW, the 13.6 GW total could have as much as 5 percent of U.S. households powered with renewable energy from public lands alone. Geothermal projects on BLM land deliver 40 percent of all the geothermal power in the country. Eventually solar and wind on public land could do as well.