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Indian Country discusses future of energy sources

HOLLYWOOD — Representatives from 11 Tribes met with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) officials Jan. 24 to discuss their recommendations regarding energy and infrastructure development in Indian Country.

Held by the DOE’s Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure Working Group (ICEIWG) at the Hollywood Hard Rock Hotel, the group discussed the DOE Indian energy program, national legislative proposals related to energy and climate change matters in Indian Country, President Barack Obama’s task force on climate preparedness and resilience, and the newly established quadrennial energy review task force.

The ICEIWG, founded by the DOE in 2011, is comprised of Tribal government leaders who work with the DOE Office of Indian Energy to survey, analyze and provide feedback on policy and program initiatives. Through the group, the DOE seeks to collaborate and gain insight into the obstacles and opportunities in energy and related infrastructure development and capacity in Indian Country.

The discussion also focused on renewable energy sources in Indian Country, including solar, wind and wood biomass fuel. Dean Polchies, NCAI legislative associate, gave an update on energy options produced in Indian Country and how climate change may impact them.

“The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the country and they should set an example of wise usage and spending,” Polchies said. “They need to include Tribal energy products.”

Hollywood Board Rep. Steve Osceola and Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank presented an overview of Seminole renewable energy projects and objectives. Osceola said the Tribe aims to reduce their carbon footprint, become self-reliant on energy from non-renewables, use renewable energy in community buildings and become a leader in self-sustainability.

“We want to be able to branch out and help other Tribes with resources but no capital,” Rep. Osceola said.

The Tribe is studying the feasibility of solar street lights in Big Cypress, but because South Florida has a sub-tropical climate, sunshine isn’t as abundant as on reservations in the West, he said. In addition, the Tribe wants to reduce its dependency on Florida Power & Light (FPL) and develop a tribally owned utility company.

Rep. Frank also talked briefly about the proposed FPL plant on the border of the Big Cypress Reservation and the Tribe’s lawsuit against Hendry County for changing zoning laws that allow the plant on the land.

“In addition to lighting up the sky, for the plant to work, they’ll have to steal about 22 million gallons of water a day from us,” he said.

Removing water from the aquifer will require pumping chemicals into it, similar to the fracking method of extracting natural gas from the ground in other areas of the country. An increase of sinkholes in the area could result from the fracturing of the aquifer, Rep. Frank said.

The ICEIWG meets at least four times a year to make recommendations to the Office of Indian Energy regarding energy and infrastructure development, education, capacity building and electrification goals and program objectives carried out under Title V of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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