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Energy Changes Central to Native Growth

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The nation’s focus on costly climate change controls has “crashed and burned,” and the way industrial pollution is handled in the future will affect the progress of Indian tribes, the leader of a major Native energy coalition believes.

“Only affluent countries can afford measures like cap-and-trade, and even renewable energy is more expensive,” A. David Lester, Muscogee Creek, executive director of the 56-member Council of Energy Resource Tribes, said.

Under cap-and-trade, the limit, or cap, on the carbon dioxide emissions of industry would be achieved by setting overall emission limits and allowing carbon emitters to trade individually purchased carbon permits. The program stalled over cost objections, including those from developing nations that mirror U.S. tribal concerns.

The way carbon emissions are treated in Indian country “will have a significant effect on tribal economic development,” said Lester, who is working on a policy white paper for the current administration and strategizing with the Intertribal Trust Monitoring Association on Indian Trust Funds.

“There has to be a solution of assisting tribes in making sure we have access to technology we can afford—wind, solar, geothermal—so that we can develop and, at the same time, cut back on our use of electricity,” he said, noting Indian communities “are the fastest-growing segment of rural America.”

Tribal nations want to expand without harming the environment, but economic incentives for green energy development go to for-profit companies whose activities on reservations are under state tax codes, and “bettering the tribal tax base becomes an enormous need so our energy economy supports more vigorous tribal growth,” he said.

Lester said the recently formed House Subcommittee on Native American and Alaska Native Affairs will provide a sharper bipartisan focus on energy-related and other needs in Indian country....

The reformation of federal Indian energy policies is incomplete and most tribal priority issues were left unaddressed by the 111th Congress, he said.