Department of Interior Streamlines Lease Approval Process for Developing Renewable Energy Projects on Tribal Lands


The efficiency and transparency of developing wind and solar energy projects on tribal lands have improved considerably as a result of the recent issuance by the Department of Interior (DOI) of its final rule governing leases on Indian lands. The final rule, finalized on November 27, 2012 and effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, streamlines the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approval process by fine-tuning leases for renewable energy projects and accelerating review times, making it more advantageous for developers of renewable energy projects to work with tribes in generating renewable energy on tribal lands. As part of a broader agenda to reform and improve the management of Indian lands, the new regulations should remove significant obstacles to the development of renewable energy projects.


As part of its trust responsibility for 56 million acres of land that DOI holds for the benefit of tribes and individual Indians, the Department is required to approve leases on Indian lands. The old regulations were adopted 50 years ago and used a “one-size-fits-all” structure that did not accommodate differences between leases for single-family residences and large business developments. The old regulations did not have timelines for DOI review, resulting in extensive delays that put tribes and landowners at a disadvantage when competing for renewable development opportunities. The regulations also required DOI to give intense scrutiny to the judgment of Indian landowners in the use of their own lands.

As explained in greater detail below, the new regulations remove these roadblocks and establish a streamlined process for wind and solar energy resource assessment and development on Indian lands.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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