A flurry of rulemaking activity occurred in the days after the presidential election, an apparent final push to codify key policies of the Obama administration. Among these policies were three Department of the Interior rules that consider a landscape-level approach to land use and natural resource management—the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new land use planning rule, Planning 2.0; a new BLM rule that establishes a framework for competitive renewable energy leasing on public lands; and an update to the Fish and Wildlife Service mitigation policy. All three policies aim to institutionalize an approach that considers resources across jurisdictional boundaries on a landscape basis to identify the areas best suited for development and those where conservation measures would have the greatest value.
• BLM Planning 2.0. On Dec. 1, the BLM issued a final rule known as Planning 2.0, the much anticipated update to its land use planning regulations. The rule updates for the first time in 30 years the agency’s procedures for developing and amending BLM’s resource management plans—the documents that guide BLM’s management of public lands in terms of natural resource development, recreation and conservation. It also incorporates the Obama administration’s signature landscape-level approach to resource management into BLM’s formal planning process.
• Renewable Energy Leasing Rule. On Sept. 30, BLM issued a final rule establishing a competitive leasing process for solar and wind development on public lands. This rule also codifies a landscape-level approach to project planning, directing developers to designated leasing areas (DLAs) with minimal conflicts and the best energy generation potential. Project developers who site projects within DLAs stand to enjoy a variety of incentives, including financial benefits and a streamlined leasing process. The rule complements and institutionalizes the Obama administration’s landmark planning efforts for “smart from the start” renewable energy development on public lands, including the Western Solar Plan, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California and the Restoration Design Energy Project in Arizona.
• FWS Mitigation Policy. On Nov. 21, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published an update to its mitigation policy, adopting a landscape-level approach to mitigation of project impacts on fish, wildlife, plants and habitats, and establishing a “net gain… or at a minimum, no net loss” goal. The policy update is consistent with a 2015 Presidential Memorandum calling on agencies to set a “net benefit” goal for mitigation, as well as a 2013 Secretarial Order and subsequent DOI Manual update, establishing a departmentwide mitigation strategy to move away from project-by-project or single-resource mitigation and toward a landscape-level approach.