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WYO Indian Country Eyed for Clean Energy Development

March 24, 2010

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Native American tribes manage 95 million acres of possibilities for clean energy development, as outlined in a new report - but it also cites some obstacles to getting projects off the ground. Solar, wind and geothermal have the biggest potential for Wyoming's tribal lands, according to the report.

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 across the country are getting calls almost daily from outside firms, 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 federal maps of clean energy potential draw lines around almost every Indian property.

"They were definitely given the worst of what was left, and now it's turned out to be, as far as renewable resources are concerned, some of the best that we have."

Energy efficiency and weatherization also play a role in spurring economic development for tribes, says Torbitt. The Northern Cheyenne and NWF recently won a grant for a project:

"To look at doing some retrofits to improve the efficiency of some of the tribal buildings at (Chief) Dull Knife Tribal College, and we're very excited about that."

Alternative energy development could be harnessed for tribal energy needs, as well. 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 - WY