The White House transmitted its Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request to Congress on February 2, 2015. Overall, the budget includes over $7.4 billion in funding for clean energy technology programs across the federal agencies. Most relevant to Indian tribes, tribal utilities, and tribal business are funding requests to continue existing energy and related environmental programs, as well as a few new initiatives, that support clean energy development and climate change resiliency efforts on tribal lands. Starting with the Department of Energy, the budget requests $20 million for the Office of Indian Energy for financial and technical assistance, capacity building, and deployment of energy, energy infrastructure, microgrids, and energy efficiency projects. A newly proposed initiative is the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program, with a request of $11 million. The loan guarantee program would provide underwriting and credit subsidies for loan guarantees for tribally owned energy generation projects.
In the Department of Agriculture budget request, the Rural Energy for America Program, which tribes and tribal enterprises are eligible to participate in, maintains a budget request of $10 million to provide grants and loans for deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The Rural Utility Service request includes $14 million for High Energy Costs grants, and $6 billion in additional lending authority to support the deployment of rural utility renewable energy generation, energy efficiency projects, transmission and distribution power lines. Under the USDA Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA), tribes are now eligible for RUS grants and loans. Additional USDA budget requests include programs that can be leveraged for energy development and climate change adaptation, such as the Forest Service Stewardship Contracting ($14 million), National Resource Conservation Service Technical Assistance ($1.5 billion), Farm Service Agency Conservation Program ($311 million).
The budget request for the Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management, is approximately $140 million for energy development, water energy conservation, and tribal hydro infrastructure improvement. These programs include the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development, with a budget request of approximately $50 million for energy, mineral, workforce development and loan guarantee program. The BIA also proposes $50 million for climate change resiliency efforts on tribal lands. And, the BIA has requested $27 million for resource management for Indian irrigation and dams that provide power to Indian tribal lands. The BOR requested $161 million for water energy conservation grants. Lastly, the Office of Surface Mining has requested $1 billion for states and tribes for reclamation of abandoned mine lands.
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new initiative, with a $4 billion request, called the Clean Power State Incentive Fund. This Fund would provide financial assistance to states and tribes to support their obligations under the proposed Clean Power Plan. Tribes also participate in the Indian General Assistance Program, which has a budget request of $96 million. And, tribes are eligible to participate in the Brownfield Program, a technical assistance program for state, local and tribal governments to determine better uses – including renewable energy projects – for brownfields. The Brownfield Program request is $110 million.
Additional budget proposals that may be of interest to tribes include a permanent renewable energy production tax credit, which would be expanded to include solar technology and would be refundable. The President has also proposed a new “Carbon Dioxide Investment and Sequestration Tax Credit” to support the commercial deployment of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies. Finally, the President has proposed the “POWER + Plan” to help communities dependent on coal and fossil energy resources adapt to the changing energy landscape. Over $55 million is proposed for Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, EPA, Department of Commerce programs under this effort.
As Congress begins its annual budget and appropriation committee efforts, tribes and tribal enterprises are encouraged to monitor these efforts. Check back here, at the Limitless Energy Blog, for updates on these budget actions, as well as other federal and state program efforts to support energy development on tribal lands.