Skip to main content

Campbell calls tribes to a more careful approach to energy production

WASHINGTON - At a well-attended two-day conference in Washington on tribal energy issues, former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell said the nation can learn from the traditional thinking of tribes as it grapples with energy production processes that must account for global warming. For their part, under new energy law, tribes can prosper without sacrificing their cultures to energy production, and they can serve the nation's energy needs.

The conference, conducted by Law Seminars International, drew a full house of tribal leaders and featured discussions that would never have emerged from behind closed doors only 10 years ago. A full report on the proceedings is forthcoming. But as an appetizer, Campbell set the table as only he can.

''You don't get an all good result of energy production without some negative offset somewhere,'' he said July 18. ''I guess what we have to do, from the standpoint of Indian country ... is that we have to go back to our old belief about the seventh generation, and make sure that what we're doing is not going to do more damage than good in the future, and realize that there is a word called, words called, the concept of unintended consequences, and move along carefully, move along slowly. Use models that have already been proven to the good ... and recognize that it's not going to be all a bowl of roses here. There's going to be something in there [energy development processes] you're probably going to have to deal with and you might not like. But taking the precautions ahead of time and trying to offset that, I think, is the best interest of the tribes ... trying to keep in place their cultural, religious integrity.''

He said the Indian-specific provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 are long overdue. The implementing rules and regulations are scheduled for release in August, and Campbell said the ''rules and regs'' in this case serve the intent of Congress to streamline the production process for tribes that want to pursue energy development.

Both the Department of Energy and of the Interior will be mandated to make Indian-preference energy purchases once tribes reach the point of producing their own power; the Western Area Power Association will be authorized to purchase non-federally generated power for its reserve supplies, with tribes among the first in line for WAPA sales; wind and solar power options will be funded by grants; and Housing and Urban Development will have to conserve energy in HUD housing on Indian land through purchases from tribal providers. Under Tribal Energy Resource Agreements, the heart of the 2005 law's Indian title, Interior must ''show you how to start, help you start, provide the technical expertise and provide the money too for you to be able to start'' a power production facility.

''There's a whole lot of parts to it that are submerged in there that I think are going to be good,'' Campbell said.

Interior's past energy accounting services for tribal energy are bound to inspire doubts, he acknowledged; but under the new law, tribes can be equal partners in energy production, meaning tribes will be able to keep watch over their own accounts.

''Indian tribes unfortunately, in the history of this nation, have been burned so many times by the federal government, by private industry and so on, I think they have every right to move along very, very carefully, and do it one step at a time. But I think this opens a huge opportunity if they want to use it. If they don't that's great, and some won't. But I think there's some real resources there that's going to help Indian people that can be done in concert with their cultural and religious beliefs, and at the same time help this nation get less dependent on some of the foreign energy we're using.''