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Intertribal Council On Utility Policy: Collaboration for Building the Economy through Energy Initiatives

From seventy to eighty cents of every dollar made in the average US community leaves the area in which it was earned. In the majority of Native American Reservations, this amount jumps up to ninety cents. The amount of economic out-surge could immensely be lowered through the implementation of a clean energy economy, and effective-energy housing initiatives, yet instead the economic leverage is lowered and the financial flow is outsourced to distant corporations.


The Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (COUP) has representatives from ten Tribes in order to pull resources for planning, policy collaboration, new industry training, and economic development. Created in 1994, with the objective to “convert energy problems into solid opportunities to build tribal energy independence and greater economic strength.”


Through an already immensely impoverished economic area, creating an energy economy could be a long-term, realistic solution to a “crisis in Indian country due to climate, health, housing, energy, resources, unemployment and poverty,” according to Bob Gough, secretary at the Intertribal COUP said at seminar series at Colorado State University. There are four ways to implement this solution: through community initiated energy efficient housing, building skilled tribal workforces, building tribal wind power sources and building new clean energy policies.


Climate Change: unseen effects and alternative energy solutions


 Coal serves as the domain energy source for most of the US, which has a feedback loop, that implements negative repercussions. This energy uses a large amount of water, which creates less snowpack, which contributes to water loss, which gives to a bigger coal-use need, which adds to inflated costs. “Water and energy are interconnected,” says Gough. “Water can move to money.”


Although this feedback loop that the use of coal brings is universal, the issue within intertribal land is that most tribal land holds the prospect for immense alternative energy implantation. Wind and solar use for energy is a very realistic economic perspective, as the majority of tribal lands sit on largely open lands of the west. These alternative energy solutions have the potential to mitigate the disruptive short and long-term weather patterns in which stem from carbon-based fuels and green house gas emissions.


As has become empirical knowledge, green house gas emissions is a leading source of climate change. Through energy use, food production, industry pollutants, green house gases are being emitted into the climate at an unmaintainable rate. In accordance to the US, if everyone lived the way Americans do, we would need 6 planets to support the population according to Gough. Wind and solar energy creates a viable option for the mitigation of green house emissions, and tribal lands have a unique desire to limit the emission footprint because of the extreme need for economic alteration.


The Native American Student drop out rate is around 50% according to a study done by the University of Northern Michigan last year—that is 26% higher than the national average. The high dropout rate can be attributed to many issues such as drug use, poverty, and family strife—yet one reason is there is little driving force for an educated future is the lack of incentives in the area. Within the general American society, students are shown from a young age, the possibilities of a vital career future through the industries in the area. When living on tribal land, in many cases this is absent.


Through the implantation of energy sources, students would be given the opportunity to have a close-to-home industry to contribute to after an education. In addition to the general economic gain through the energy production, a sector of trade schools has the potential to be established and through the industry of alternative energy production, an opportunity to bring growth into the economically stagnant area is significant.


 “A key challenge for building out the full potential of one of the richest wind regimes in the world is the need to bring effective innovation and broad program strengthening to our renewable energy 'green collar' workforce training programs,” says Intertribal COUP President, Patrick Spears on the COUP website. “This need ranges from community straw bale and energy retro-fit employment to corporate wind and solar needs for well-trained regional tribal workforces.”


The US median age is 36.9 years, the Native American median age is 29 years and the reservation median age is 20 years. This number depicts the crisis that Native American communities are fighting. Having a resource in their area in which Native Americans could work on, learn to implement would provide jobs for young adults, would provide educational goals for students, and could provide a place for educated students to work in their community in a healthy and focused life-style.


Through the use of Solar and Energy use, tribal lands could lessen the gap of how much economic activity leaves the tribal land. With the resources on their land, the area holds power for their own growth in their hands.


Efficient housing: Straw Bale over governmental solutions


The national numbers of where energy is implemented within our society shows that an average of 76% is within buildings—heating, cooling and electricity, 23% is in industry—production and 1% is in transportation of materials and services—this shows that 40% of total annual energy use is lost within conventional buildings. Add the cold winters and hot summers in the western us plain land, below standard insulation, and a huge housing shortage, and the Native American housing crisis is identified.


 The COUP has a progressive solution that would provide aide to all parts of this crisis. Moving from government provided, low-quality housing, to inter-tribally built straw bale houses made with readily available resources, and a naturally strong insulator material seems to have many positive implementations for all aspects of the community.


Creating new energy efficient structures made from local straw bale construction materials which would be built by Tribal College faculty and students and therefore building capacity for energy audits and retrofits of structures that waste energy and deplete community assets, is the objective for the COUP’s plan for building a sustainable community. The COUP is looking to build a systems-based approach to achieving sustainable buildings that incorporates environmental considerations into every phase of the building process.


A straw bale building includes blocks of straw within the walls of mud and cement. The straw is a natural insulator meaning the need for additional energy through heating and cooling would be minimal, lowering the economic stress for homeowners. Straw bale houses are simple, low cost and use resources in the region to build a building that encompasses all of the areas needs in a logical and obtainable manner. This is a local solution the tribal communities can implement and work towards a positive, progressive independent economy.


Governmental steps: set but not yet implemented


 This is not a new theme—it has been spelled out legally that tribes have the legally binding opportunity to take advantages of the natural energy resources within their areas as well as have a right to the energy economy that is produced. This is spelled out in the Energy Policy Act (EPAct), erected in 2005. Although steps have not been taken to implement said rights. In conjunction with the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), a Federal hydropower program through the US Department of Energy (DOE), transmission, wind and Native American tribes are the three key areas within this overarching energy and economy puzzle.


The Intertribal COUP has been working for eighteen years to bring gigawatts of clean energy “by building utility-scale renewable power installations on tribal lands.” The process of installing these solutions is underway, because of the Intertribal COUP’s persistent and focused work and activism for the Native American Community.