Udall: ‘Tribal energy independence means tribes have sovereignty over generation, transmission, and sale of energy resources’
Published May 2, 2017
WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, delivered remarks at the Department of Energy Tribal Energy Office’s 2017 National Tribal Energy Summit. In his remarks, Udall spoke about the importance of nurturing strategic partnerships to help achieve Tribal energy independence by investing in renewable energy sources. Udall said that reaching energy sovereignty through renewables will strengthen Tribal economies and help protect sacred Tribal lands.
Udall also highlighted the challenges posed to Tribes by changing energy markets in places like the Four Corners region, which for decades has relied heavily on coal burning power plants to drive the local economy. “We all know there is a big policy debate regarding coal,” Udall said. “[But]…the economics do not look good for coal to power the regional economy forever.”
Udall called on the Department of Energy and Department of the Interior to provide assistance in ensuring that Tribal workers in transitioning energy markets, like the Four Corners region, receive the help and retraining they need to secure good paying jobs in new energy fields. “The prudent thing to do is plan for the future on a practical, cooperative basis. And I believe the federal government has a deep responsibility to help. The Four Corners area is one of the most economically depressed in the nation, and has one of the highest concentrations of Native Americans, and is dependent on energy for Tribal income and jobs.”
“We must make sure Tribal members are not left out in the cold. We need to make sure dislocated workers get help, retraining, and good jobs, and new industries can help provide the tribal governments with much needed revenue,” Udall continued. “The Tribal Energy Office is well positioned to help with these transitions. DOE and the Department of Interior need to work together on plans to specifically target resources for the Native Americans communities facing these transitions.”
Below are Udall’s full remarks as prepared for delivery.
In his remarks, Udall referenced a map of energy resources on Tribal lands. The map can be found here.
Thank you for that introduction, Gary Davis. Your work with the National Center and now the Native American Financial Services Association has done a lot to support tribal economies and create good jobs in and around Indian country.
I would like to specially recognize Chris Deschene, director of the Office of Indian Energy. Thanks to Chris’s vision for tribal energy independence, Native communities are seeing real benefits.
Thank you for your hard work at DOE, and for putting this important summit in collaboration with the National Conference of State Legislators.
I welcome Secretary Zinke to this important summit. Thank you for making this meeting a priority. And, I am always glad to see Senator Hoeven. We are both committed to working hard on these important issues in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
I am honored to be here today, and proud to be your partner on the Indian Affairs Committee. We have a lot of work to do this Congress.
I want to make sure our committee is responsive to the needs of American Indian and Alaskan Native tribal governments, and that we continue to work on a bipartisan basis so we get things done.
Tribal energy independence is a goal we need to strive for. Tribal energy independence means tribes have sovereignty over generation, transmission, and sale of energy resources.
And, tribal energy independence through renewable sources means the lands Tribes hold sacred are protected, the air Native communities breathe is cleaner, and we continue the fight to reverse global warming.
This goal may seem far off. Fourteen percent of homes in Indian country do not even have electricity, compared to 1.4 percent nationwide. On the Navajo reservation, 30 percent of homes don’t have electricity. That’s 15,000 homes. Energy costs on reservations can be up to 10 percent higher than the national average. Transmission lines can cost up to $60,000 per mile in remote areas on-reservation. In some rural Alaska communities, electricity costs are more than eight times the national average. These numbers are not good.
But consider this: while reservations account for two percent of the nation’s land mass, they hold five percent of the nation’s potential renewable energy resources.
The Department of Energy estimates that wind power from tribal lands could satisfy 32 percent of the total U.S. electricity demand. And solar production from Indian lands could generate enough energy to power the country two times over. Wow!
Not only does this mean tribal energy independence. It also means economic growth. Tribes can produce and sell energy. It means stronger, more diversified economies. And it means lots of good paying jobs.
I want to show you a map of energy resources on tribal land. I borrowed this map from DOE’s Office of Indian Energy. Thanks, Chris!
As you can see from this map, American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments have tremendous potential for producing renewable energy – from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass.
Right now, wind is the most prevalent renewable resource produced on Native lands. Tribes of the Great Plains have greatest potential for wind resources. But there is great potential in other regions of the country as well.
Tribes in the Southwest have the greatest potential for solar energy. And again, there is potential to develop solar power in every region of the country.
Virtually every part of Indian country could produce renewable energy. We must ensure tribes have the resources they need to tap into those resources!
A key partner in getting to tribal energy sovereignty is the DOE Office of Tribal Energy. The Office’s provision of technical assistance, education, and financial assistance to tribes is invaluable. And it more than pays for itself.
Between 2002 and 2016, the Office invested $66 million in over 200 tribal clean energy projects, and leveraged almost $60 million in Tribal cost share. By matching federal and Tribal dollars, the Office of Tribal Energy is delivering tangible results: we see more renewable energy, more energy efficiency and conservation, more jobs.
Access to capital is a huge barrier for tribes seeking energy independence. The Office of Tribal Energy provides grants and technical assistance on innovative financing strategies. For example, Tribes can lease their lands for renewable projects, develop their own, or do a hybrid – lease-then-purchase.
The President’s early budget proposal does not give any details for DOE’s Tribal Energy Office. I can tell you that I will fight to maintain the Office and its budget from my seat on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.
Tribal energy sovereignty is critical. And this is the one office in the federal government dedicated to that goal. We must keep it fully intact.
Climate change must be a central concern of our nation’s energy policy. We policy makers cannot put our heads in the sand about the reality and perils of climate change.
Climate disruption is here and now. And we must address it head on, aggressively.
Supporting renewable energy sources fights climate change, and protects our land, water, and air.
In our changing energy markets, there are big challenges, especially in Indian country. In the Four Corners area, especially in Arizona and New Mexico, the coal burning power plants are around 40 years old. They have been economic anchors for the regional economy for decades. But they are downsizing and there are plans to eventually close them down. It is only a matter of time. And the time could be coming up fast.
We all know there is a big policy debate regarding coal. But there are some indisputable facts in this particular area. These plants are old. Owners have pulled out. The price of natural gas in the area is low, and has been low for many years. The economics do not look good for coal to power the regional economy forever.
The prudent thing to do is plan for the future on a practical, cooperative basis. And I believe the federal government has a deep responsibility to help. The Four Corners area is one of the most economically depressed in the nation, and has one of the highest concentrations of Native Americans, and is dependent on energy for Tribal income and jobs.
We must make sure Tribal members are not left out in the cold. We need to make sure dislocated workers get help, retraining, and good jobs, and new industries can help provide the tribal governments with much needed revenue.
The Tribal Energy Office is well positioned to help with these transitions. DOE and the Department of Interior need to work together on plans to specifically target resources for the Native Americans communities facing these transitions.
I think Congress created, and funds, this DOE office, along with Interior programs, to help with challenges like this. I look forward to working with Tribes, both agencies, and all stakeholders on solutions.
Some of these new jobs should be in the renewable energy sector. The Four Corners area has both solar and wind resources, and, critically, has access to major interstate transmission assets – thanks to the coal plants already there. Building and maintaining substitute generation capacity makes logical sense as part of an overall economic development plan.
The Solar Foundation recently found that 95 percent of solar firms in New Mexico had difficulty finding qualified applicants. These are good-paying jobs. We need to make sure that American Indians and Alaska Natives are getting the resources they need to take advantage of the growth of renewable energy industries.
Tribal energy sovereignty is an ambitious goal, but it is not an impossible goal. I will work with you in Congress to make it a reality.
Thank you for being here, and for your work on behalf of tribal energy independence.