Houck, D.L., “Indian Energy Development and the Law,” Vol. 22, No. 1 Environmental Law News (Summer 2013), a publication of the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of California, provides an overview of the challenges of developing renewable energy projects in “Indian country” in California. “Indian country” is defined under federal law in 18 U.S.C. § 1151.
Houck notes that “[v]ast amounts of energy resources are located within Indian country, and development of these resources can provide much-needed economic resources to rural Indian populations with high unemployment rates.” However, energy development in Indian country “involves a number of unique legal concepts,” which cause such projects to be “more complex than in non-Indian country.” According to Houck,
Projects proposed in Indian country may encounter multiple different land ownership types, including tribal trust lands, restricted fee lands, tribal lands owned in fee within the reservation boundaries, and land allotments held in trust for the benefit of individual Indians. Such projects also implicate concepts such as tribal sovereignty, federal trust responsibility, land base and geographic limitations and land ethic. . . . Moreover, energy development in Indian country within California is often located in close proximity to non-tribal operations.