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Five Federal Agencies Lead by the Department of Interior Aim to Prioritize & Expedite Permitting for Renewable Projects

February 4, 2022

On January 6, 2022, a Memorandum of Understating (MOU) between the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the agencies’ intent to improve public land renewable energy project permit coordination. The Energy Act of 2020[1] authorized this initiative with the goal of improving interagency permitting coordination for the expedited processing of wind, solar, and geothermal applications on federal lands. Pursuant to the Energy Act of 2020, the Secretary of Interior established a National Renewable Energy Coordination Office (National RECO) within the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Headquarters and five RECOs in the western states (BLM RECOs) with the responsibility to implement a program to improve federal permitting coordination. The RECOs in coordination with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will lead the agencies in implementing the interagency coordination and expedited reviews for the lands the agencies administer. The MOU sets forth each of the signatory agencies’ roles and responsibilities in reviews of renewable projects, including providing the RECOs with an agency point of contact for coordination.

This initiative aims to 1) increase coordination of environmental and other agencies reviews, 2) improve interagency cooperation in the National and BLM RECOs, 3) identify opportunities to work with state and Tribal governments (including those without Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards), and 4) streamline the project approval process by eliminating duplication and building consistency with the goal of accelerating decision making. The MOU states specifically that the agencies will “prioritize and expedite” the approval process with the goal of authorizing at least 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal lands administered by DOI and USDA by December 31, 2025. Further, the MOU anticipates that continued cooperation among the agencies will result in additional authorization of renewable projects on federal lands between 2025-2030. The MOU also notes that the goals of improved permit coordination and expedited permitting decisions under the MOU apply to relevant aspects of agency coordination related to supporting activities including land use planning, electric transmission, energy storage (e.g., battery storage and pumped energy) research and development of new technologies and any other associated agency responsibilities and activities promoting onshore renewable energy goals.

The MOU stipulates that, in the course of conducting the reviews, consideration will be given to “the protection for cultural resources and sacred sites as well as the Nation’s land, water, and biodiversity, and fostering creation of jobs to support local communities.” In addition, evaluation of renewable projects will be consistent with the principles and policies regarding environmental justice to underserved communities as a commitment to strong protection from environmental and health hazards for all Americans.

While this initiative is subject to the availability of appropriated funds and budget priorities within each of the agencies in accordance with the Energy Act of 2020, the ambitious goals set forth in the MOU highlight the current administration’s focus on addressing climate change and the energy transition while supporting economic development and energy justice. The prioritization of the development of wind, solar, and geothermal facilities on federal lands presents exciting opportunities for renewable energy stakeholders and potential investors.

[1] 43 U.S.C. § § 3001-3005, Pub. L. No. 116-260 (December 27, 2020).