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Streamline Leasing Process
WASHINGTON - The National Congress of American Indians, NCAI, welcomed Monday's news from the Department of Interior regarding proposed reforms to outdated lease regulations obstructing tribal economic and renewable energy development.
The proposed lease reforms would streamline the leasing process on tribal lands and clear the way for tribally driven renewable solar and wind energy projects. This simple regulatory change promises to directly stimulate economic growth in Native communities and benefit the American economy.
"The federal government has heard the message of tribal nations to remove barriers stifling tribal economic and renewable energy development. Until these reforms are enacted though, tribes will continue to wait excessive lengths of time to permit a renewable energy project or approve a mortgage," said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI. "We don't have time to wait; we're ready to strengthen our economies now and jumpstart the clean energy economy in Indian Country. This is something the entire country can get behind and there should be no hesitation."
The proposed rule would modify regulations governing the Bureau of Indian Affairs', BIA process for approving surface leasing on lands the federal government holds in trust for tribes and individuals. Interior serves as the trustee for tribal lands and is responsible for approximately 56 million acres in Indian Country. The Department of Energy estimates Indian lands contain significant renewable energy potential - enough to meet 32 percent of the nation's energy needs with wind power and 2 times the entire country's energy needs with solar power.
Although great potential exists, very few tribally owned renewable energy projects have moved forward because of the disproportionate review processes tribes are subject to. The new regulations impose timelines on the Department for reviewing leases - up to 30 days for residential leases, and up to 60 days for business leases and wind and solar energy leases. The proposed regulations distinguish between residential, business, and wind and solar energy leases, and establish separate processes for review.
In a statement released on Monday, the Department of Interior described the existing regulations, adopted in 1961, as "an antiquated, 'one-size fits all,' approach to processing all surface leases. Under the current system, which lacks a defined process or deadlines, it is not uncommon for a simple mortgage application to languish for several years waiting approval from the federal government.
These reforms signal a positive step toward what NCAI President Keel called for in the annual State of Indian Nations Address in January of 2011. During the national address Keel called for the federal government "to clear the way for [tribes] to expand economic opportunity so that we might compete clear the way for us to develop energy on our own lands, build commerce and create jobs, so that we might contribute more the economy of America. We can create more opportunity for energy independence, and a larger recovery."
There will be a 60 day comment period on the proposed regulations.
posted November 29, 2011 3:20 pm est
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