For too long, America has ignored an immense clean energy source sitting right off our shores.

We’ve chosen to remain dependant on fossil fuels that cause dangerous air and water pollution, threaten our national security, and place future generations of people and wildlife in jeopardy from climate change. And we’ve overlooked a golden economic development opportunity that can create thousands of high-quality jobs while revitalizing our maritime industrial heritage all along the Atlantic Coast.

Today, we are one step closer to change. Secretary Salazar just announced that the Obama Administration has hit the accelerator in developing our offshore wind energy resources off the Mid-Atlantic coast. NWF applauds this decision (NWF & VCN statement of support) to responsibly expedite the permitting process for offshore wind projects, recognizing the important role that offshore wind must play in securing a clean energy future for America. We believe developing offshore wind energy is critical for protecting wildlife from the dangers of climate change when designed and constructed in an environmentally responsible manner.  It is possible to protect our coastal and marine wildlife in the pursuit of offshore wind energy, and today’s announcement sets the stage for both.

What does today’s announcement mean?

Because of this important decision, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) can now move forward with the leasing process for offshore wind projects off the coast of New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. With strong environmental conditions, developers will now be able to begin site assessment activities on their reserved blocks of ocean in order to collect the data necessary to design construction and operations plans for their projects. A comprehensive environmental review, including an Environmental Impact Statement, will be required at that point to ensure that the proposed projects are safe for people and wildlife. NWF believes this approach will allow for an efficient permitting timeline for this critical clean energy source without sacrificing environmental review.

 When will offshore wind energy leases be issued?

There is so much interest by the offshore wind industry in developing projects off the Mid-Atlantic that BOEM will have to grant leases through a competitive auction process. The auction logisitics are still being finalized, although NWF and our allies are calling for a swift, efficient process (see BOEM Auction Signon Letter) that gets leases into responsible developers’ hands as quickly as possible. We expect as many as 10 leases to be granted across these 4 states in the Mid-Atlantic region by the end of 2012.

 Offshore wind energy – a wildlife-friendly energy solution

National Wildlife Federation applauds the Obama Administration for hitting the accelerator in the pursuit of offshore wind energy for America. By expediting the permitting process for responsible offshore wind energy without sacrificing critical environmental review, America is one step closer to harnessing the massive economic and environmental benefits that will come from tapping this immense domestic clean energy source.

But this is just beginning! The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that well over 200 GW of wind energy potential is available in the Atlantic Ocean using current technology, as much as is generated each year by nearly 200 average coal-fired power plants. And the Department of Energy has set a goal of developing 54 GW of offshore wind generation by 2030. Launching a robust offshore wind industry in the U.S. has the potential to create thousands of high quality jobs while producing clean, domestic energy that does not produce harmful pollution.

There is much more work ahead to ensure that America does not continue to leave this enormous clean energy opportunity on the table, but today’s announcement is a critical step forward.