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Tribes want consultation in renewable energy projects

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Several tribal representatives said they would like to continue to work on a bill that would streamline renewable energy approvals.

While the state legislature is considering House Bill 1812, several tribal representatives said they believe the bill still has a few problems in how it formalizes tribal consultation.

The bill would streamline the state process to approve or deny renewable energy projects. In addition, the bill aims to formalize tribal consultation in the project review process.

Now, Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council reviews large-scale energy development in the state. After public hearings, it sends a recommendation to the governor, who approves or denies the project.

Gov. Jay Inlsee requested H.B. 1812 to help meet clean energy goals and create clean energy jobs, said Becky Kelly, Inslee’s senior policy advisor for climate. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, sponsored the bill.

However, during a public hearing Tuesday, several tribal representatives said more work needs to be done on the bill.

For one, tribes are concerned that a streamlined approval process could jeopardize rights to cultural and sacred sites, said Dawn Vyvyan, a lobbyist for the Yakama Nation and Puyallup Tribe. The two tribes didn't oppose or support the bill because of their concerns.

Often, tribes are unaware of potential renewable energy projects until developers have filed for permits, she said. At that point, these projects may have been under consideration for months or years, she said.

“This bill adds some certainty that communication with the tribes will be enhanced, which is currently happening in a very minimal way and is not working effectively,” Vyvyan said.

In addition, she said, the bill should ensure sensitive cultural information brought up during tribal consultation remains confidential.

Vyvyan said she didn't have any comment on another bill, House Bill 1871, which would pause state approval of renewable energy projects.

Right now, Drew said, the state has found that energy development companies more often reach out to tribes and the state departments of Fish and Wildlife and Ecology through the state’s renewable energy review process.

Early consultation is critical to quickly review projects, Drew said.

However, companies often have sent an email or letter instead of meeting with tribes in person to discuss potential projects, said Jerry Meninick, Yakama Nation tribal member, in an earlier interview with Northwest Public Broadcasting.

“Even if the tribe doesn't show up, it doesn't make any difference to them,” Meninick said.

In addition to consultation concerns, Daryl Williams, a liaison with the Tulalip Tribe’s Natural Resources Department, said H.B. 1812 shouldn’t limit tribal participation to two tribes. At times, tribes may want to comment on larger projects, such as natural gas pipelines, which would affect many tribes, he said.

Kelly said the governor’s office will continue to work with tribes and lawmakers to iron out concerns in the bill.

[Read more about the two House bills here.]

Courtney Flatt is a Richland-based multi-media correspondent for Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network focusing on environmental, natural resources and energy issues in the Northwest.