WASHINGTON The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday said it has created a special task force to speed the development of renewable energy projects on federal lands.
"More so than ever, with job losses continuing to mount, we need to steer the country onto a new energy path," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The task force will identify specific zones on public lands where the department can act rapidly to create large-scale production of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy.
"We will assign a high priority to identifying renewable energy zones and completing the permitting and appropriate environmental review of transmission rights-of-way applications that are necessary to deliver renewable energy generation to consumers," Salazar said. "We have to connect the sun of the deserts and the wind of the plains with the places where people live."
The department will have to coordinate its efforts with other government agencies involved with energy and electricity transmission policy, including the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Interior is also moving forward with finalizing regulations for offshore renewable energy production, but the department will have to work with FERC to sort out which agency is responsible for issuing permits for offshore wind energy.
"We ought not to let the jurisdictional bureaucracy get in the way of the ultimate agenda," Salazar said. "We need to get it done."
The department manages one-fifth of the U.S. landmass and over 1.7 billion offshore acres.
Environmental groups applauded the department's decision to make renewable energy a priority.
"Secretary Salazar has laid the foundation for our nation's entrepreneurs to harness the planet's wind, sun, heat and other renewable energy sources in a manner that safeguards the wildlife and natural resources that help keep American communities healthy, safe, and prosperous," Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Christian Wiessner)