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SD Indian Country Eyed for Clean Energy Development

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 By Deb CoursonContact
March 24, 2010

SIOUX FALLS, S.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. Solar, wind and geothermal projects have the biggest potential for South 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 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."

Torbit says tribes should be in the driver's seat for development so they can reap the returns and make sure their culture and history is respected.

"It gives some economic development to the tribe; it could provide some job training that could improve their dire unemployment situation, and it can also help the American public as we look for non-fossil-fuel energy resources."

He points out that 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.

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