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U.S. Interior Pushes for Solar, Wind Projects on American Indian Lands

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The United States Interior Department has revised the regulations addressing leasing of Indian land, according to a Federal Register memo released Monday. The changes are intended to accelerate the approval of leases for solar projects, wind farms, commercial development and residential use on 56 million acres of American Indian lands, which is roughly the size of the state of Utah, the Interior Department said. The new deadlines to process leases exclude agriculture and also do not pertain to natural gas, mining or other sub-surface development projects, reported Cronkite News.

The proposed rule imposes a 30-day timeline for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to process applications for residential leases, subleases and mortgages. It requires a 60-day limit on business-related applications. The only loophole for not processing an application within the time span is if the BIA finds a “compelling reason” not to do so, the BIA Interior said in a statement. There was previously no restrictions on how long the process could take. "These timelines are enforceable," BIA Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk said on a conference call yesterday.

“It will require the government to act,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in Monday's conference call. “The government cannot sit on its hands, as it often has done.”

The need for this change was driven by American Indian tribes, who have recently been "doing larger and more complex transactions, including large solar and wind projects,” said John Dossett, general counsel at the National Congress of American Indians, a Washington-based lobbying group, in an interview Monday, reported Cronkite News.

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Tribes often lost out on deals due to the lengthy appraisal requirement and lack of deadlines. “This is going to help move things a long quite a bit faster,” Dosset said.