The Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has published updated rules for non-agricultural surface leasing on tribal land – including wind and solar development.
The extensive package of rules was published in the Dec. 5 Federal Register. The regulations take effect Jan. 4, 2013.
The updated rules for surface leases establish a new subpart for Wind Energy Evaluation Leases (WEEL) and Wind and Solar Resource (WSR) leases.
The rule clarifies the procedures for BIA to issue decisions on complete wind and solar lease applications. It defines what information is necessary for a complete application and provides tribes greater deference in tribal leasing decisions.
The new rule continues to require landowner consent for leases consistent with the Indian Long Term Leasing Act and the Indian Land Consolidation Act of 2000 (ILCA).
“For wind energy, this rule establishes a two-part process whereby developers may obtain BIA approval of a short-term lease for possession of Indian land for the purposes of installation and maintenance of wind evaluation equipment, such as meteorological towers,” according to the Federal Register notice.
The solar review process is simpler because solar evaluation does not require possession of the land.
The regulations provide for a 20-day time frame within which BIA must issue a decision on a complete WEEL and a 60-day time frame within which BIA must issue a decision on a complete WSR lease application.
BIA conducted three tribal consultation meetings on the proposed rule during January in Seattle, Wash.; Palm Springs, Calif.; and Rapid City, S.D. The comment deadline was this past Jan. 30. Interior received more than 80 written submissions.
Many tribal organizations said they generally supposed the proposal, because it was an improvement over a prior draft and more accurately reflected the intent to streamline and expedite the lease process, BIA said.
Based on tribal comments, BIA has revised the rule to ensure that it requires BIA to defer to tribes “in all possible cases, consistent with our trust responsibility.”
Several tribes stated that revision of the business leasing regulations was long overdue, BIA said. Based on tribal comments, BIA said it is moving to develop a new website with information on the leasing procedure.