SEATTLE - Support is strong in Washington for using public lands for wind and solar development - but only if it's done with conservation in mind. A new poll
says almost eight in ten Washingtonians (77 percent) favor giving some of the proceeds from developers' rents and royalties to counties and states, to use for land management and habitat restoration.
Pacific Northwest Regional Director Peter Dykstra with The Wilderness Society, which commissioned the poll, says wind development here so far has been on private or state land - so it's important to get the rules in place now for proposals on federal land.
"Washington is unique in some of the western states, in that we can lay out this framework before we have any major projects developing wind on federal land. So, we can be smart from the start."
Dykstra says most people assume that rents and royalties trickle down to local communities, since they do with other forms of energy development - but not so with renewables.
If money was set aside for conservation, the pollsters also asked how it should be used. A majority of Washington respondents said they'd support restoring fish and wildlife habitat affected by energy development (86 percent), or creating parks and refuges (80 percent). And pollster Christine Matthews says politics didn't seem to play a role in the numbers.
"Setting aside areas for parks, refuges and conservation - again, Democrats, as you would expect, are the strongest supporters. But three-fourths of Republicans and Independents also support using the money this way."
There are three bills now in Congress (HR 5991, HR 6154, and S 1775) to create rules for responsible energy development on public lands. So far, they're stalled in the pre-election gridlock. But Dykstra says they have Washington state support on both sides of the aisle - including 5th District Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican.
"She has a strong commitment to this work and is in a leadership role, and we're hoping that because there's such bipartisan support - it does good things for local economies and the environment - these are the kinds of issues that will move beyond that divisiveness."
The poll was conducted in August by two polling firms, one Democratic (Peak Campaigns) and one Republican (Bellwether Research).