Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said Wednesday the plans, in their final stage, could increase the nation's supply of geothermal energy to power more than 5.5 million homes within seven years.
"Geothermal energy will play a key role in powering America's energy future, which requires a wide variety of energy sources," Kempthorne said in a conference call with reporters. "Because geothermal energy is replenished by heat sources deep in the Earth, it is a renewable resource that generates electricity with minimal carbon emissions."
Utah already has two geothermal plants in the southwestern quadrant of the state, and Interior's plans - if finalized after a 60-day comment period for governors of the 12 states affected - could free up millions of Utah acres for more development. Interior's plans do not include any lands within the national-park system but do include up to 79 million acres within national forests.
Lisa Roskelley, spokeswoman for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., called the Interior plan a "positive move forward."
Kempthorne said the department hopes to garner an additional 5,540 megawatts of geothermal energy by 2015, enough to power some 5.5 million homes, and up to 12,000 megawatts by 2025, enough to power 12 million homes.
The United States, the world's leader in geothermal use, produced 16,000 gigawatt hours of electricity in 2005, with almost half that production coming from federal lands.
The Wilderness Society backs the idea of steering toward geothermal within the United States but questions Interior's fast-paced move to publish its plans in the Federal Register only a month since the public-comment period closed.
The Wilderness Society, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service submitted comments on draft regulations.
"A rapid transition away from fossil fuels is important but not at the expense of our clean air and water and our public lands," said Alex Daue, outreach coordinator of the Wilderness Society's Bureau of Land Management Action Center. "A more measured approach would be better for the public and our public lands in the long run."
The group had not seen the proposal Interior officials discussed Wednesday because it had not yet been released, but Daue hopes it covers concerns about where leases would be granted and what environmental rules would be followed.
Where in Utah?
Utah areas that could be opened to geothermal production: Book Cliffs, Box Elder, Cedar-Beaver-Garfield-Antimony, Diamond Mountain, Henry Mountain, House Range Resource Area, Iso-tract, Mountain Valley, Paria, Park City, Parker Mountain, Pinyon, Pony Express, Randolph, St. George, Vermilion, Warm Springs Resource Area and the Zion area.