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UM project intended to bolster tribes' energy independence

by UM News Service
| January 31, 2022 1:15 PM

MISSOULA – Monte Mills, acting dean and a professor at the University of Montana Blewett School of Law, is part of a team working to find out how transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy will affect Native American tribes and their lands.

Funded by a nearly $500,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the project will help inform tribal and federal policymaking, with a specific focus on energy development decisions that boost economic development and emission-reduction goals.

The project team includes professors of law, public policy, geography, development and the environment from institutions around the country. Members are from UM, the University of Arizona, the University of North Texas at Dallas and the University of Michigan. Other collaborators are from Resources for the Future, a nonprofit research institution in Washington, D.C., with expertise in modeling energy development on public lands.

“They are all great thinkers,” Mills said. “I’m honored to be a part of a team that works together in an interdisciplinary fashion to bring this all together.”

Focusing on tribes in the San Juan basin and Bakken oil formation areas, the team will examine the effects public policies could have on future energy development on Native American lands.

Research will begin with extensive engagement with the relevant tribal communities to better understand their priorities, concerns and goals.

The team then will deploy a modeling tool to estimate the effects of an energy transition and corresponding reduction in oil and gas production on tribal lands. Using input from tribal leaders, they also will use geospatial modeling tools to understand the potential for renewable energy development on tribal lands, as well access the impacts of tribal, federal and state policies.

In the last leg of the project, the team will work with law students at member institutions to examine the legal and policy issues related to the energy transition on energy sovereignty and self-governance in select tribal communities. Mills will concentrate on the legal and policy analysis portion of the project.

Project funding includes support for Mills to have a student research assistant during the grant term.

“There will be opportunities for students to get involved with broader research questions and service work through the law school’s Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic,” said Mills. “Our students will get to think about how to put law and policy together with other research disciplines in service of tribal governance and decision-making.”

The team expects to produce papers, presentations, briefs and blogs for academics, tribal governments and communities, state and federal policymakers, and the public.

This project will develop new knowledge about how to leverage the clean energy transition to improve outcomes for tribal communities in the United States, Mills said. Native communities often experience higher energy prices and insecurity. Through direct and extensive engagement with tribes and research, the project will improve policies that concern potential future energy development on Native American lands in ways compatible with economic development and emissions reductions.

“Our focus is to help make a difference,” Mills said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it.”

For more information about the Sloan Foundation, visit https://sloan.org. Find out more about the Blewett School of Law at www.umt.edu/law.

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