Giving Compass' Take:
- Energy developers and companies will benefit from working with the support of tribal communities instead of against them to move clean energy projects forward.
- How can Indigneous knowledge help energy companies succeed?
- Read about the benefits of energy sovereignty for Indigenoys peoples.
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In December, a federal judge found that Enel Green Power, an Italian energy corporation operating an 84-turbine wind farm on the Osage Reservation for nearly a decade, had trespassed on Native land. The ruling was a clear victory for the Osage Nation and the company estimated that complying with the order to tear down the turbines would cost nearly $260 million.
Attorneys familiar with Federal Indian law say it’s uncommon for U.S. courts to side so clearly with tribal nations and actually expel developers trespassing on their land. But observers also see the ruling as part of a broader trend: Gone are the days when developers could ignore Indigenous rights with impunity. Now, even if projects that threaten Native land and cultural resources ultimately proceed, they may come with years-long delays that tack on millions of dollars. As more companies look to build wind and solar farms or mine minerals for renewable energy, failing to recognize Indigenous sovereignty could make the clean energy transition a lot more expensive and much farther away.
“I think tribes are starting to see that they have more leverage than they thought, and that they’ve previously exercised, over all this infrastructure that’s on their land,” said Pilar Thomas, an attorney, member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona and former deputy director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs at the U.S. Department of Energy. “They want to make sure that they’re getting their fair share.”
Rick Tallman, a program manager at Colorado School of Mines’ Center for Native American Mining and Energy Sovereignty who has spent more than two decades working on financing and consulting for clean energy projects, calls the Osage Nation ruling a wake-up call.
“If you’re going to develop energy in the U.S. you’ve got to do it with the support of tribal communities,” he said.
According to Tallman, investors don’t like uncertainty. He said a lot of infrastructure funders are very conservative and won’t back a project unless they are confident it will succeed, which includes getting the buy-in of affected Indigenous Nations. There’s no upper limit to how much the project could cost if investors don’t get it right.
Read the full article about indigenous rights by Anita Hofschneider at Grist.