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Next step for Salazar's offshore renewable energy plan: NOAA

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"We are in the renewable energy business." - Interior Secretary Salazar, 3/11/09

It was more good news from the Obama Administration yesterday when Department of Interior Secretary Salazar announced the agency is forming an energy and climate change task force to advance clean energy in America. This means solar and wind on land, as well as offshore renewable energy resources in our oceans.

The announcement includes steps to protect ecological treasures on land as part of the process for advancing renewable energy. It does this by involving the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the planning process. However, the same safeguard is not in place for sensitive ocean habitats.

There is a simple fix: Secretary Salazar should reach out to involve NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the lead ocean agency, in deciding where and how to site offshore renewable energy. Involving NOAA from the start in deciding where to develop offshore renewables will help increase production of the clean energy we need in a manner that protects the marine environment. NOAA has the expertise and information needed to make sure we are implementing offshore power in the most environmentally sensitive way.

NOAA can help do offshore renewables right by designating "red" and "green" zones for development. "Green zones" would identify areas where offshore renewable power could move forward because the conditions are right to produce large amounts of energy without hurting sensitive areas in the sea. And "red zones" would indicate areas off-limits to development because they are too ecologically important. By identifying these green and red zones, we protect special ocean places and also help facilitate the deployment of offshore renewable technologies, by providing industry with increased certainty.

So - Secretary Salazar is on the right track, but he needs to involve NOAA, the ocean agency, to ensure that offshore power is developed in a way that protects ocean resources. By doing this, we can maximize the clean energy we get out of our oceans and minimize its impacts.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's blog.