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New report provides tribal energy outlook

WASHINGTON – A new report finds that tribes disproportionately bear negative costs resulting from U.S. energy policy and its aftereffects, yet there is substantial potential on tribal lands to generate clean energy from renewable resources.

The report was drafted by the National Wildlife Federation in collaboration with the National Tribal Environmental Council, the Native American Rights Fund, and the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy. It is titled, “The New Energy Future in Indian Country: Confronting Climate Change, Creating Jobs, and Conserving Nature.”

Among its top findings:

“On average, tribal households pay significantly more in home energy expenses than other Americans.”

“Most utilities are solely owned and operated by non-tribal entities, so the money paid to energy providers immediately leaves tribal communities.”

“More than 14 percent of American Indian households on reservations have no access to electricity, compared to 1.2 percent of all U.S. households.”

Meanwhile, tribal lands, which cover almost 5 percent of the total area of the U.S., hold an estimated 10 percent of the country’s renewable energy resources, including enough solar energy potential to generate 4.5 times the national total energy consumption in 2004, according to the report.

“The tribes always seem to have been put at odds with their culture and their natural history of conservation with development projects in the past,” said Steve Torbit, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center and Tribal Lands Conservation Program. He added that renewable energy efforts tend to better adhere to tribal principles.

Tribal energy officials have long said it is important to include tribes in federal policy to help them become a major player in the green energy revolution.

Bob Gough, a leader with Intertribal COUP, noted that tribes are still waiting for several positive energy developments under the Obama administration. Some Congress members have made promises, but action has been slow in this area to date.

Many tribal leaders have told Congress that it should encourage the creation and growth of energy initiatives on tribal lands.

“American Indian energy resources hold enormous potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, generate substantial revenue for the tribal owners, and aid in the development of tribal economies,” testified Marcus Levings, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, at an Oct. 22 hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“An often-overlooked aspect of Indian energy is that it helps satisfy the American economy’s need for a reliable energy


The report also highlights individual tribal case studies, presents maps of energy potential in wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, and offers tribal principles for climate legislation. It is available online.