Murkowski, Smith Introduce Indian Energy Legislation

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Tina Smith, D-Minn., today introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and improve the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs (OIE). The bill, entitled the Tribal Energy Reauthorization Act (TERA), reauthorizes OIE and the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (TELGP) through 2030, updates eligibility requirements for energy project grants, and encourages more locally and regionally based partnerships when providing technical assistance to tribes.

“We know that many rural and tribal communities face extreme energy challenges and pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the entire country,” Murkowski said. “OIE has the potential to be transformative. Our bill will improve OIE to ensure its impact is both positive and consistent for Alaska Natives and American Indians.”

“We need to work with people in local communities—those who are closest to the work—in order to figure out how the federal government can best support them. Our bipartisan bill recognizes this and dials in on helping Tribal communities work with OIE, and provides needed help for Tribes seeking loans to improve energy infrastructure,” Smith said. “I have seen first-hand in Minnesota the important role that Tribes can play in the clean energy transition. This bill encourages more energy project grants, takes into account the effects of climate change, and ensures we’re living up to our responsibility to support energy development for Tribes in Minnesota and across the country.”

Key provisions of TERA:

  • Authorize OIE and the TELGP through 2030;
  • Address the overly restrictive Indian land requirements for energy project grants; 
  • Allow non-profit electric cooperatives that serve tribal communities to apply for OIE funding;
  • Provide OIE with the ability to take into consideration the fiscal ability of a grant applicant to meet cost-share requirements, and adjust accordingly;
  • Encourage OIE to prioritize fostering relationships with and utilizing local and community expertise;
  • Direct OIE to dedicate staff to ensure tribes are aware of relevant funding opportunities across all federal agencies; and
  • Require OIE to develop a forward-looking energy strategy for Indian communities in the Arctic that takes into account the effects of climate change.

There are 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States, including 231 in Alaska. According to the Department of Energy, some rural communities and villages in Alaska pay electricity rates of more than $1.00/kilowatt hour, or about 800 percent higher than the national average.

Senators Murkowski and Smith are both members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Click here for more information about TERA.

Click here for the bill text.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska, Energy