JurisdictionUnited States
Natural Resources Development in Indian Country
(Nov 2005)


Kevin L. Shaw 1
Richard D. Deutsch 2
Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP
Los Angeles, California

Kevin Shaw is a partner in the firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP. His practice emphasizes transactions involving energy projects and companies, as well as the mining industry. He practices in the Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California offices of the firm. While trying to decide whether to live on the Gulf Coast or the West Coast, he practiced in Denver, Colorado from 1981-88. He began his legal career with Shell Oil Company in its Western Exploration and Production division, in Houston, Texas.

In addition to other articles and papers, Mr. Shaw most recently co-authored a paper for the 45%gth%g Annual Institute of the Foundation entitled "Idle and Deserted Wells: Who Plugs and Who Pays?" He received his B.A. in 1976 from the University of Texas and his J.D. in 1980 from the University of Houston. He is admitted to practice in the States of California, Colorado and Texas. He is a member of the American Bar Association, State Bar of California, Colorado Bar Association and State Bar of Texas. He has served as the President of the Denver Association of Oil and Gas Title Lawyers (1986-87), and the Southern California Chairman of the Natural Resources Subsection of the State Bar of California (1994-1997).

Mr. Shaw is a sailplane pilot, and because of that, thinks he knows a lot more about the power of the wind than he really does.

Mr. Deutsch is a litigation associate in the firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP. He practices in the firm's Houston, Texas office. His practice focuses on international arbitration with an emphasis on international commercial disputes involving energy, mining and telecommunications-related issues. He has represented clients with claims under the ICSID Convention, UNCITRAL, AAA and the ICC Rules of Arbitration, as well as the Cairo Regional Center for International Commercial Arbitration. Mr. Deutsch has published international arbitration-related articles for The Stockholm Arbitration Report and Sellier (Germany) European Law Publishers.

Mr. Deutsch received his B.A. and Bachelors in Journalism from the University of Texas in 1989 and 1992, respectively. He received his J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 2002 and is admitted to practice in Texas. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the International Law Section of the Houston Bar Association. In his prior life, Mr. Deutsch was a journalist, writing for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Houston Post, The Austin American Statesman, United Press International and Texas Monthly Magazine.

Advocates of wind energy have long crowed about its economic upside and environmental benefits. The cost of generating electricity with wind is now less expensive than with natural gas. It is also safer environmentally as wind turbines, unlike other types of power generation facilities, will never be accused of causing dangerously high mercury levels in water supplies. By comparison, the environmental threat of wind turbines is virtually non-existent.

Yet for all of its economic upside and feel-good greenie appeal, wind power was merely a blip on the power generation screen for most of the modern era of electricity production. Wind projects floundered throughout most of the twentieth century as pie-in-the-sky investment forecasts were reduced to pie-in-the-face of wind power proponents.

After a few false starts in the 1970s, the development of wind power projects in this country exploded near the end of the century. Since then, soaring natural gas prices and new governmental policies towards the electricity sector have drawn investors to explore and accept renewable energy sources such as wind power. By 2005, the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees wholesale electric power markets in the U.S., was declaring that, "Wind energy will be the biggest generation investment in the next few years." 3 Such enthusiastic predictions have been backed by a coast-to-coast gust of major wind power projects, with 2,500 megawatts of wind power scheduled to be built in 2005, including: 4

• One energy company on the West Coast has planned to add approximately 400 MW of wind to its portfolio;

• In Texas, the municipal utility of San Antonio will purchase energy from a 100 MW wind farm new Sweetwater, Texas;

• One large company serving Western and Midwestern states is planning to supply electricity from 1,500 MW of wind power; and

• In upstate New York, the first 198 MW of a project called the Maple Ridge wind energy project will be generated by the end of 2005.

Perhaps there is no better place for investors interested in wind projects to look than Indian lands. For a wide range of reasons, including attractive wind resources and the federal government's efforts to fund and support the exploration and development of wind energy projects on Indian lands, Indian reservations and lands controlled by tribes have become an attractive place for wind power investment. Due to the geographic advantage of having large amounts of tribal lands in the wind-rich Great Plains and other wide open and windy locales, tribes are well positioned to take advantage of this apparently bullish attitude towards wind power generation.

This paper will explore the reasons for the current growth of wind power projects on Indian lands. It will set out the background of wind energy projects in the U.S. and the reasons for wind power's growth in recent times. It will then discuss energy projects on Indian lands and explain why it has become beneficial for tribes and private investors to look towards wind power projects. Also included is a summary explanation of the significant regulations and legal enactments related to wind power and their impact on potential investors in such projects.


A. High availability of renewable resources on tribal lands.

The federal government recognizes the sovereignty of over 500 different tribes, most of which have "established land holdings, independent tribal governments, and a growing demand for more energy to fuel emerging and rapidly expanding economies." 5 With tribal memberships rising at an annual rate of 3%, American Indian tribes and Native Alaskan groups are the fastest growing demographic group in the country (outside of immigrant populations). 6

The term "Indian lands" is used to denote federally recognized Indian reservations. "Indian Country", on the other hand, encompasses all land within the boundaries of any Indian reservation of any federally recognized tribe plus all "dependent Indian communities." 7 Reservations are found in 33 states and cover approximately 3 percent of the land area in the contiguous 48 states. 8 The size of Indian reservations in the U.S. ranges from a few acres to 24 that are larger than Rhode Island. They are located anywhere from remote rural areas to just outside metropolitan areas. 9 The economies of many of these reservations are fueled by revenue from their local energy resources, and may increasingly include wind power.

Approximately 2 million acres of Indian land have some kind of energy exploration, but another 15 million acres of potential energy resources remain untapped. Indian lands hold ten percent of the nation's onshore gas reserves and a third of the coal in the West. 10

With regard to wind power, Indian lands hold great potential for wind projects. 11 Tribes in the southwest and on the northern plains have tremendous wind power resources. 12 Opportunities are so abundant on reservations in New Mexico and North Dakota that, at one time or another, they have been referred to as "the Saudi Arabia of renewables" 13 and "the Saudi Arabia of wind energy," respectively. 14 The top ten states for wind energy potential also happen to be states containing large blocks of Indian lands. They include North Dakota, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Iowa. 15

B. History of Energy Projects and Resources on Indian Lands.

The federal government has long controlled energy development on Indian lands. Energy development was managed and administered by the federal government under its trust responsibilities for tribal lands. In some cases, particular tribes were active in promoting the development of their resources. But, historically, many tribes played relatively minor roles in the exploitation and extraction of energy sources from their lands. Although some collected substantial royalties from oil and gas, and coal production, few tribes took the initiative to seek out and develop energy sources on the reservations. 16

Indian tribes today, however, have gained a whole new perspective on energy development. Their motivation: Profits. 17 Major policy shifts by the federal government changed tribes' opinions on energy production. The deregulation of the natural gas supply and the more recent turmoil in the reconfiguring of the electricity sector were among the initial factors that caused tribes to re-think their position on developing energy. 18 But, as explained below, the keys to the growth and investment in renewable energy on Indian lands have been the federal government's passage of enactments supporting renewable energy development on reservations and its hands-off approach to energy programs on reservations which shifts important regulatory powers to tribal governments.

Perhaps the best example of the potential benefits of this shift in attitude is the impressive story of the Southern Utes in southwestern Colorado. The tribe sits on very large natural gas reserves and sought to obtain more direct control of its resources from the larger outside companies who...

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