Allison Binney and Ian Shavitz Quoted in Morning Consult on Tribal Land Energy Development

Allison Binney, a partner in Akin Gump’s American Indian law and policy practice, and Ian Shavitz, senior counsel in the firm’s public law and policy practice, were quoted in the Morning Consult article “Unlocking Energy on Tribal Lands Proves Challenging.”

Shavitz said opportunities for commercial-scale energy development on tribal lands are getting better every day, noting, “The chance of success is improving, costs are going down, bureaucracy is being reduced.” The article reports that land on American Indian reservations contains an estimated 5 percent of all renewable energy resources in the United States, according to the Department of Energy, and interest from project developers and financiers has risen sharply. “As it’s become more prevalent, you have lending institutions willing to go ahead and finance projects on tribal lands,” Shavitz said.

Binney, however, pointed out that while the opportunities may seem plentiful, particularly in areas like North and South Dakota, often referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind, “The problem has been how do you go about unlocking that potential?”

Getting tribal members to agree on how to use their land is often a stumbling block to development. “One thing that developers have run into is you have a tribal government absolutely for developing a project on their land because it’s going to be beneficial to the tribe,” Shavitz said. The projects create jobs, produce revenue, and, in some cases, provide the tribes with better electric reliability and more energy security. What developers sometimes run into, he added, is that members of a tribe are not always in lock-step with the government. Tribes, he said, often seen their land as their most valuable resource and it’s important to recognize “that even if the government is in favor, it doesn’t mean its members are.”

Much of the hold-up in development, Binney said, is due to a lack of resources at the Interior Department. The department, she said, “is just understaffed. It’s just a time consuming process.” That said, the opportunity for a boom in large-scale development of tribal energy resources is within reach. Binney said, “To really change the market you have to have energy development on tribal lands be a priority, not just for the Interior, but for the DOE… That’s where bulk of funding is.”

Finally, Shavitz said, the energy industry could be the next bedrock business for tribes as traditional revenue sources as casinos struggle: “Tribes are becoming more and more sophisticated, they’re starting to diversify and look at multiple different opportunities to generate revenue.”