Bingaman Plan Would Boost Energy Development on Indian Lands

February 14, 2003
12:00 AM
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, top Democrat on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, today renewed his effort to focus more attention on developing energy resources on Indian lands by introducing a bipartisan measure meant to spur energy production in Indian Country. Bingaman first introduced Indian energy legislation in December 2001, and it was adopted last year as part of his comprehensive energy plan. That larger bill bogged down in a House-Senate conference and never become law. But Bingaman has reintroduced his bill this year because he expects the Senate will take up energy legislation in the coming months. “Energy production on tribal lands holds great promise. It is my belief that we can help meet our future energy needs by tapping into those resources. At the same time, such a move would provide new economic development opportunities in Indian Country, where jobs are scarce,” Bingaman said. To help Indian tribes tap into energy resources, Bingaman’s legislation would establish a "Comprehensive Indian Energy Program” at the U.S. Department of Energy to assist tribes in developing their energy resources with grants and loans. The legislation would also cut red tape imposed by the federal government on Indian tribes that seek to lease land and rights-of-way for energy production and transmission. And it would provide incentives for the development of renewable energy on Indian lands. According to the Department of the Interior, only a quarter of the oil resources and less than a fifth of the natural gas resources on tribal lands have been developed. The Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates there are almost 90 Indian reservations with energy resource potential, including oil and gas, coal and coalbed methane, wind and geothermal. At the same time, 14.2 percent of all Native American homes on reservations have no access to electricity, compared to just 1.4 percent of all U.S. households. The problem is even more acute on the Navajo Reservation, where 37 percent of homes don’t have electricity. In addition, Indian households spend four percent of their income on electricity -– twice the average for all U.S. households; this in spite of higher rates of unemployment and poverty in Indian Country. Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) are cosponsors of Bingaman’s measure. The two senators lead the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.