Native Tribes Receive Greater Authority to Block Hydropower Projects

The federal government has given greater authority to Native American tribes to block any future hydropower projects on Native land, through a series of new regulations after multiple companies applied to build such projects.

As reported by ABC News, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had previously allowed companies to begin construction of such projects even if the tribes objected. As of last week, FERC granted the tribes the power to veto such efforts and force negotiations between the companies and the tribes.

Seven recently proposed projects on Navajo land were rejected by the FERC. With these rejections came the announcement of the new regulations on tribal authority, thus allowing the tribes themselves to make such decisions in the future without the approval of the federal government.

“This is the acknowledgement and respect of tribal sovereignty, which is critical,” said George Hardeen, a spokesman for the president of the Navajo Nation. Navajo territory encompasses 27,000 square miles across three southwestern states: Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

“It applies anywhere that a hydropower project might be proposed on tribal lands throughout the United States,” said Aaron Paul, an attorney with the conservation group Grand Canyon Trust.

Hydropower plants are one of many proposals by so-called “renewable energy” groups as an alternative to conventional methods of fuel such as coal. Developers have sought to use land like the southwest due to the uneven terrain, rich with canyons, mesas, and other geological features that produce wildly different elevations; the numerous different levels are ideal for a water-based facility, as water must keep moving in order to generate power.

Hardeen pointed out that the presence of such facilities might bother the roughly 175,000 residents of the Navajo Nation, where one-third of the population does not have running water.

“They would more likely say ‘no’ to these kinds of projects,” Hardeen noted.

One of the companies that was rejected by FERC and is now facing similar rejection from the tribes is Nature and People First, which wanted to build a facility on a reservation in Arizona that would be capable of storing up to 100,000 acres of water.

Denis Payre, the president and CEO of Nature and People First, described the announcement as “undeniably disheartening.”

“Developing pumped storage projects is inherently challenging; this additional obstacle threatens to halt our collective efforts,” he continued.

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.

Photo: BOULDER CITY, NV - AUGUST 14: Lake Mead, the country's largest man-made water reservoir, formed by Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in the Southwestern United States, has risen slowly to 47% capacity as viewed on August 14, 2023 near Boulder City, Nevada. The lake, a national recreation area, located within the states of Nevada and Arizona 24 miles east of the Las Vegas Strip, serves water to the states of Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada, as well as parts of Mexico, providing fresh water to nearly 20 million people and large swaths of farmland. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)