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Energy Initiatives Bring Tribes and Government Together

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Representatives from every government agency dealing with energy and the environment—from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to the Department of Energy (DOE), to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—gathered with American Indian and Alaska Native leaders on May 4 and 5 for a Tribal Energy Summit to hear about clean energy initiatives already under way and explore future avenues of collaboration.

Such programs can be used both to power tribes and as business opportunities, the various government and tribal officials emphasized at the two-day summit.

“Our goal was to bring tribal leaders and department leaders together to learn about, and work together on, the various energy development issues confronting Indian Country,” Tracey LeBeau, director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, told ICTMN after the meeting. “We believe we have succeeded in starting a department-wide relationship with tribes that will bring substantial benefits to our efforts to achieve energy development, infrastructure and education goals.”

DOE Secretary Steven Chu pointed out at the summit that the DOE Tribal Energy Program has invested $30 million in 129 tribal clean energy projects and that the Recovery Act allocated $54 million to tribes through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program that have funded more than 400 projects. He cited the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s new recycling center, among other ventures.

“I want to start by saying clearly—I take the Department of Energy’s responsibilities and commitments to sovereign Tribal Nations very seriously. We are fully committed to our Tribal policy and to early and meaningful consultation with American Indian Tribal governments and Alaska Natives on a government-to-government basis,” Chu said. “We are also committed to strengthening federal-tribal relationships to protect tribal rights and interests, including treaty rights, to promoting tribal sovereignty and self sufficiency, and to addressing concerns immediately as they arise.”

The leaders of all 565 federally recognized tribes were invited, as were national and regional tribal organizations. About 50 registered, and numerous others followed it via webcast, the DOE said.

Shoshone-Bannock tribal leaders were among about 350 who attended. They told Local News8 in eastern Idaho that they have a wind-project proposal in the works and are in the process of replacing their diesel-fueled agricultural water pumps with solar-powered irrigation systems. The tribal members also want to help clean up the DOE’s Idaho site, the station said.