MMS and FERC Agree on Responsibilities for Offshore Renewable Energy Development

March 18, 2009

On March 17, 2009, Secretary of the Interior (DOI) Ken Salazar and Acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair Jon Wellinghoff issued a joint statement announcing the two agencies’ intent to collaborate on permitting renewable energy projects in offshore waters.


The joint statement put to rest ambiguities about whether MMS would also have primary permitting responsibility over offshore water power projects in addition to its responsibilities regarding offshore wind energy development. The statement recognized both agencies’ respective statutory authority and alluded to the complimentary roles that each agency plays in the process of permitting and licensing offshore renewable energy development.  The statement recognizes that the Secretary of the Interior, acting through MMS, “has the authority to grant leases, easements, and rights-of-way… with regard to the production, transportation, or transmission of… renewable energy” under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act as amended by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The statement further claims that “Interior’s authority does not diminish” FERC’s statutory responsibility under the Federal Power Act to “oversee the development of hydropower resources in navigable waters of the United States” and as such FERC “will have the primary responsibility to manage the licensing of such projects in offshore waters… with the active involvement of relevant federal land and resource agencies, including the Department of the Interior.”


Both agencies have ordered their staffs to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that sets forth the principles mentioned in the joint statement, and which describes the process by which permits and licenses related to offshore renewable energy will be developed. The MOU will reaffirm DOI’s role as the primary permitting agency for offshore wind power projects, and will outline FERC’s jurisdiction over permitting offshore wave, tidal and ocean-current projects.