By Mark Wolf
Energy resources are a key component in a pathway to economic sovereignty for Native American communities, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told the National Tribal Energy Summit on Thursday.
"Strategic energy planning and development can strengthen sovereignty and build human capacity by creating jobs and wealth, advancing science research and education and by improving tribal government programs to better regulate and invest in energy. Energy is key to a prosperous and self-determinant future for tribal communities," Moniz told the Summit, hosted in Washington D.C. by NCSL with the sponsorship of the Department of Energy and in cooperation with the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.
While tribal lands make up about 2 percent of U.S. land, they are home to about 5 percent of U.S. renewable energy resources, especially wind and solar, said Monitz.
"We're talking about 9,000 gigawatts of potential resource, a very, very large number," he said.
He announced a new request for information as an initial step toward a funding opportunity announcement to support intertribal organzation support for tribal government efforts for energy project developments.
"A lot has changed since this journey started in 2005 with the Energy Policy Act, which put tribal energy squarely into U.S. energy policy discussions through the Office of Indian Energy," he said. "Today the mission is to maximize development and deployment of energy solutions for the benefit of Native Americans and Alaska natives. In the last 12 years the department funded 136 tribal energy projects, investing almost $40 million, leveraged by a comparable amount in cost-sharing," he said.
Moniz announced the expansion of the Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure working group (ICEWIG) by adding three tribal members with diverse portfolios of resources, including fossil energy.
He said the Office of Indian Energy's budget had expanded to $16 million in fiscal year 2015 and the department's budget proposal is that it grow to $20 million in 2016.
"We also asked for a new $11 million credit subsidy for the Tribal Indian Energy Loan Guarantee program. This $11 million in appropriated funds can leverage nearly 100 million in new clean energy generating programs on Indian lands. We are frankly disappointed that in the FY 16 appropriations committee markups to date, the program is not funded. As discussions evolve in the Congress over lifting budget sequestration caps, this is a real priority for me," he said.
Citing the recent Tribal Energy System Vulnerabilities to Climate Change report, Moniz said climate-related events "are already affecting the way Indian Country receives, produces and uses energy. Tribes are among the communities most vulnerable and global warning is even more extreme in the Arctic so our Alaskan natives have their way of life in many ways quite literally threatened."
Mark Wolf is a editor in the Digital Communications program at NCSL.