U.S. Targets American Indian Land for Wind, Solar Projects

The U.S. Interior Department plans to require the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve leases for renewable-energy projects on land held by American Indians unless the bureau can show why the proposals should be rejected within two months.

Under the proposed rules, the bureau would have to approve proposed projects unless it finds a “compelling reason” not to do so, the department said today in a statement. The bureau would have 60 days to evaluate industrial development and renewable-energy plants, and 30 days to consider residential leases.

The rules are intended to accelerate the approval of leases for solar projects, wind farms, commercial development and residential use on 56 million acres of American Indian lands, about the size of the state of Utah, the Interior Department said. They don’t cover leases for oil, natural gas, mining or other sub-surface development projects.

“The proposed changes are the most comprehensive reforms of Indian land leasing regulations in more than 50 years,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in the statement.

The changes are intended to “streamline” the lease-approval process, which has no deadlines and can drag on for years, said the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

American Indian tribes have been requesting these changes since the Clinton Administration, said John Dossett, general counsel at the National Congress of American Indians, a Washington-based lobbying group.

“The need for this change was driven by tribes recently doing larger and more complex transactions, including large solar and wind projects,” Dossett said today in an interview.

The lengthy appraisal requirement and lack of deadlines meant that tribes lost out on some deals. “This is going to help move things a long quite a bit faster,” he said.

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