Introducing Renewable Energy on Tribal Lands or Comprehensive and Holistic Alternative Energy Planning for American Indian Nations
MetadataShow full item record
Abstract Michael Tulee, M.Ed. Chair of Supervisory Committee: Kristiina A. Vogt School of Environmental and Forest Sciences Tribes are interested in developing their alternative energy resources but have not had a comprehensive assessment that would allow them to prioritize what resource should be developed. They have commissioned studies of the supply capacity of specific energy sources such as biomass or wind; however, these studies have been conducted in isolation from other competing uses of these lands and they have not explicitly included their impacts on cultural resources. These studies were not designed to address how a decision may impact tribal quality of life, other forms of resource production and a tribe’s future resource base. This lack of a holistic and comprehensive assessment creates barriers for projects to move to the next stage even when studies suggest that sufficient supplies of a resource are available and can be economically viable to develop. The goal of this research was to provide a platform where indigenous communities can make decisions that maintain the delicate balance between controlling one’s own decisions, rooted in Native culture, and have the technological knowledge found in educational institutes and organizations, to prioritize what technologies and businesses to develop. This study had two objectives: (1) strengthen the political and technical capacity of tribes to develop their energy resources; and (2) develop a process for prioritizing resource development that is rooted in each tribe’s culture and is economically viable. A case study approach was used to explore whether the production of biofuels, i.e., methanol, from wood wastes was a realistic option to develop niche products using tribal land resources. Since alternative energy resource supplies are located in rural areas and on many tribal lands, energy resources can be the vehicle driving sustainable economic development in rural communities if they were to become the regional suppliers of these limited alternative energy resources. Today, this is not happening even though rural areas need economic revitalization; tribes living in rural areas have much higher unemployment rates compared to urban areas (7-8%). Despite the high regional potential to develop alternative energies on tribal lands, this potential is not a reality today and there are many barriers that limit its development. Biofuel production is an ideal green industry to develop since it will be rurally based, provides a diversity of technical employment opportunities, and would not compete with the traditional products industries. To stimulate alternative energy resource development on American Indian Nation lands, a decision-process is needed to provide a comprehensive assessment of what energy supplies exist and how each resource production would impact cultural resources (e.g., open spaces, hunting, fishing, traditional foods, etc.) for all tribes living within the contiguous U.S. borders. Several factors limit or are barriers to tribes to develop their energy resource potentials: knowledge of what resources exists on tribal lands; lack of energy planning capacity to prioritize which energy resource to develop locally that does not impact their sovereignty, quality of life, increase external controls on tribal resource decisions and their future resource base (e.g., Colville Business Council Resolution 1996-23); and the matching of the appropriate conversion technology to the available renewable resources that is economically viable and culturally acceptable, and does not degrade the environment for future generations. This knowledge could potentially stimulate the tribal development of alternative energy resources in a holistic manner and facilitate identifying their training needs so each tribe can independently develop their resources. It would move tribes beyond developing an energy resource because it happens to be fashionable or in vogue on the global radar screen at the moment or because subsidies currently exist to develop it. It is generally accepted that if a region can develop its green economic potential that this will (1) create new employment opportunities for a highly skilled work force, (2) It would contribute towards regional energy security and rural economic revitalization based on abundant regional resources. Since alternative energy resource supplies are located on many tribal lands, energy resources can be the vehicle driving sustainable economic and job development. Alternative energy enterprises create direct and associated jobs in the bio-energy industry with salaries ranging from $38,000 to over $100,000 per year. For example, a diversity of job skills is needed by a biofuels industry: from bio-fuel production and marketing, certifying or assessing the sustainability of feedstock production/logistic, conversion technology to produce liquid fuels, renewable energy planning, and the business development of green energy enterprises. Tribes interested in developing their alternative energy resources need a comprehensive assessment that would allow them to prioritize what resource should be developed and what business enterprises to support. Any assessment needs to address other competing uses of these lands and resources as well as the impacts on cultural resources. This decision also has to examine how a decision may impact tribal quality of life, other forms of resource production and a tribe’s future resource base. Several factors limit or are barriers to any tribe to develop their energy resource potentials: knowledge of what resources exists on tribal lands; lack of energy planning capacity to prioritize which energy resource to develop locally that does not impact their sovereignty, quality of life, increase external controls on tribal resource decisions and their future resource base; and the matching of the appropriate conversion technology to the available renewable resources that is economically viable and culturally acceptable, and does not degrade the environment for future generations. A comprehensive assessment whether it is worthwhile for a tribe to pursue alternative energy enterprises will need to be able to address all these aspects. This project will build the capacity for tribes to prioritize how they want to develop and use their resources so that it has business viability but is still rooted in culture. It will introduce new energy technologies on tribal lands that can foster new employment opportunities in energy and allow tribes to stimulate the regional development of renewable energy resources. Because tribes already contribute significantly to regional economies, tribal capacity in developing renewable energy technologies will contribute towards the vitalization of rural economies currently facing high unemployment and few employment options. It will also stimulate the use of regional resources to stimulate sustainable development and begin to contribute towards regional energy security. To make these decisions, each tribe needs to be able to comprehensively evaluate the impacts of resource consumption on the vulnerability of their lands to future land-uses and changes in the resource base as well as to identify any of its cultural impacts. This approach is similar to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programm (UNEP) and published in 2005 that focused on global evaluations of environmental conditions. This assessment was an international effort to inventory global ecosystems, their contribution to human development and well-being by countries. The MEA approach needs to be adapted beyond its focus on assessing ecosystems and scaled to the needs of each tribe and their cultural norms. It needs to facilitate tribes identifying what energy resources exist for each tribe and for them to prioritize the suitability of different energy options that they may decide to develop on their lands. This needs to be a comprehensive assessment approach that prioritizes the energy choices in a cultural and a livability of development framework. This is possible by establishing data layers relevant to tribal lands and ranking each scalar unit according to the different energy resources that are suitable and available for a tribe. The assessment process then ranks the available lands for each energy resource based on the metrics used to prioritize the alternative energy resources. This needs to be followed by a data layer that ranks the economic viability of each energy resource and the future implications of pursuing an energy resource. The ability to layer the different factors that are impacted by a resource allows the decision-maker to make informed choices for each resource and to compare it to other options. This is similar to the approach used by FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) project to determine what lands were or were not suitable for Tanzania to grow bioenergy crops by producing a suitability index. The suitability index was connected to costs to grow the crops as well as identifying lands that needed to be excluded from consideration, areas where malnutrition was too high so food crops could not be replaced by oil crops, and those areas not available because of infrastructure development.
- Forestry