WASHINGTON (AP) — To achieve energy independence, the United States should focus on tribal lands with vast untapped supplies of coal, natural gas, oil and wind, the leader of the nation's largest Indian organization said Thursday.
Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said tribal lands contain about 10 percent of U.S. energy resources, but provide less than 5 percent of national energy production. He blamed bureaucratic obstacles that prevent tribes from generating an estimated $1 trillion in revenue from energy sources.
Keel cited at least 49 bureaucratic steps in the Interior Department alone that deter energy development. He called for Congress and the Obama administration to unleash the potential of Indian energy resources throughout the nation.
"Realizing the potential of energy resources offers immense promise for tribal communities and the United States as a whole," Keel said at the ninth annual State of Indian Nations conference in Washington. "To achieve the goals of energy independence and economic growth, the focus must turn to the potential in Indian Country."
Keel's speech came as Senate Democratic leaders announced that Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
The four-term senator said he is looking forward to leading the panel, adding that indigenous people face complex issues, including disparities in economic development, health care, public safety, education and energy development.
"I believe the United States can serve as a model for the rest of the world in the treatment of its first people. I am eager to holo imua - to move forward," Akaka said.
Reservations from Oklahoma to Montana and Alaska sit atop large amounts of oil, natural gas and coal. Others in wind-swept regions of the Northern Plains and on the West Coast have huge renewable energy potential.
But existing government rules make it easier for energy companies to pursue projects on nontribal land. As a result, tribes often miss out on the chance to develop their natural resources.