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ND Indian Country Eyed for Clean Energy Development

March 24, 2010

BISMARCK, N. D. - A new report outlines 95 million acres of possibilities for new clean energy development in the United States – on land managed or owned by Native American tribes. Biomass, wind and geothermal are among the production possibilities detailed for North Dakota tribes; and yet, the report also notes stumbling blocks that make it tough for tribes to roll with new projects.

Cristala Mussato-Allen is executive director of Native Workplace, a nonprofit company that helps Native Americans get training for "green" jobs and industries. She says tribes are getting calls almost daily from outside companies wanting to use Indian resources and land.

"We're not creating economic development for ourselves when it's other companies coming in, bringing in their employees - and we don't share in the profits, and we don't share in the workforce."

The report recommends changes in state and federal policies and taxes, as well as access to capital, so tribes can develop their own clean energy resources. It was issued by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The program's director, Steve Torbit, says Native Americans want energy development to be carefully balanced.

"They want to be sure that the economic development is productive and real, and sustainable – but they also don't want that development to be at the price of their customs and culture."

Torbit says energy production could also provide for tribal energy needs. Fifteen percent of Native homes nationwide have no electricity, and the report documents that tribal households pay significantly greater home energy expenses than other Americans.

Several organizations – NWF, the Native American Rights Fund, and the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy – collaborated on the report, "The New Energy Future in Indian Country." It can be viewed online at http://nwf.org.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ND