Renewable energy and biodiversity conservation

Date01 February 2022
James McElsh Jr. (moderator) is Director of the
Sustainable Use of Land Program and a Senior Attorney
at the Environmental Law Institute.
Patrick Donnel ly is the Nevada State Director at the
Center for Biological Diversity.
Margaret Spring is the Chief Conservation and Science
Ocer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Priya Gandbh ir is a Sta Attorney at the Conservation
Law Foundat ion.
James McElsh: Welcome to this panel on renewable
energy and biodiversity conservation. is is an area where
we clearly want both of these thing s. We want to speed the
transition to renewable energy for the benet of the climate
and public health, and we want to conserve biodiversity.
We’re confronted with a set of new challenges. In some
instances, people have tried to set up the renewable energy
transition as an obstacle to biodiversity conservation, but
in fact there are ways to accommodate a nd address both, if
we plan ahead. Our panelists are going to talk about some
of the approaches to do that.
We have important international responsibilities and
local goals for both renewable energy and biodiversity
conser vation. We have the intern ational Convention on
Biological Diversity.¹ We have national commitments to
endangered species and migratory birds.² Under the Fish
and Wildl ife Coord ination Ac t³ and other laws, we have
many state requirements and goals. And in many of our
local governments, we have a concern for both being
1. 1760 U.N.T.S. 79, 143; 31 I.L.M. 818 (1992).
2. 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1544, 16 U.S.C. §§703-712.
3. Pub. L. No. 73-121, 48 Stat. 401 (1934), 16 U.S.C. §§661-666c.
nature-friendly and dealing with climate impacts when
considering renewable energy changes.
Our topic today is framed to some degree by the
Joseph Biden Administration’s announcement of the
goal to conserve 30% of our nation’s lands and marine
waters for conservation purposes by 2030 (the “30 x 30”
goa l). Our renewable energy goa ls are stated in various
ways by both state and federal governments— sometimes
dealing with specic forms of energy, like the 20% by
2030 wind energy goal, which has been around nation-
ally for more than a decade, and a lso state renewable
energy por tfolio st andards.
Energy, land use, and impacts on biodiversity have
always gone hand-in-hand. I started my legal career 40
years ago as a coa l mine regulator in the U.S. Depart-
ment of the Interior (DOI). When it comes to biodi-
versity eects and coal, we have impacts of the mines
themselves. Even if we reclaim, the biodiversity on those
mine sites is far diminished from what it had been. ere
are also the eects from the railroad lines bringing the
coal to power plants, the coal ash disposal areas, and so
on. We have the same impacts from oil and natural gas —
4. Exec. Order No. 14008, 86 Fed. Reg. 7619, 7627 (Feb. 1, 2021).
5. O  E E  R E, 20% W
E  2030: I W E’ C  U.S.
E S (2008),
In 2021, the Biden Administration also announced a goal of 30 gigawatts
of oshore wind energy by 2030. Press Release, Department of Energy,
Energy Secretary Granholm Announces Ambitious New 30GW Oshore
Wind Deployment Target by 2030 (Mar. 29, 2021),
The rapid transition of energy resources from fossil fuels toward renewables has been widely recognized as
an essential tool in mitigating climate change. Yet, renewable energy development projects and facilities can
be land use-intensive and have the potential to negatively impact conservation areas. To attempt to tackle
these issues, President Joseph Biden signed Executive Order No. 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home
and Abroad, which (1)outlines a way forward for increasing both renewable energy production and acre-
age of conservation areas, and (2)pledges a target of conserving 30% of the nation's lands and waters by
2030. On September 28, 2021, the Environmental Law Institute hosted a panel of experts that explored the
intersections of climate mitigation, renewable energy development, and biodiversity conservation. Below,
we present a transcript of that discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.
Copyright © 2022 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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