- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service is considering whether to lease parts of forest lands around Mount Baker so that companies could explore tapping the heat below the surface to generate electricity.

At least one company has expressed interest in 2013 in leasing 22 square miles of land near the active volcano for geothermal exploration.

But the forest service says it would do a broad environmental review of 130 square miles in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to consider future potential lease nominations as well. It says only about 14 percent of the area reviewed would actually be available for leasing.

The service’s Eric Ozog says designated wilderness would not be up for lease.

He says no land will be disturbed in this early review. If the forest service decides to lease the land, more site-specific environmental reviews would be undertaken by interested companies that ultimately purchase federal leases.

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