Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Tribal Climate and Energy - Resources and Opportunities


Investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste reduction can help tribal communities in many ways: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution, saving money, becoming self-sufficient in energy production, and increasing their resilience to climate change impacts. Each approach can be adapted to meet local needs.

For example:

  • Improving energy efficiency can reduce energy bills and make homes and buildings more comfortable, often at a lower cost to consumers.
  • Better energy efficiency may also make it possible to use small-scale renewable energy systems, which could bring electricity to places that either do not have reliable access or do not have access at all.
  • Onsite renewable energy generation may not only increase overall access to electricity, but also provide jobs and reduce storm or wildfire disruptions.
  • Waste reduction and recycling programs could offer new business opportunities for tribes even as they help reduce energy use and air pollution and improve the local environment.

The resources on this page provide information on achieving many community goals, including developing programs, writing guidance, and finding financing to get started. Click on any tab to the right to get started.

Energy Efficiency

Choctaw Health Energy Living Program

The Choctaw Nation’s Healthy Energy Living Program (Project HELP) promotes energy efficiency improvements and education throughout the Choctaw Nation Indian Hospital System. It includes conducting lighting retrofit projects and working with staff and patients on a sustainable energy educational program. The program has resulted in over $20,000 of annual energy savings. View the complete case study.

Santa Ynez Chumash Community Energy Efficiency, Conservation, and Renewable Energy Project

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is creating jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and associated costs. The tribe developed a job-training program designed to subsidize building performance assessments, energy efficiency retrofits, and solar installations on residential, commercial, and government buildings. For more project information, see the complete case study here.

Rincon Resort and Casino Energy Retrofit Project

The Harrah’s Rincon Resort and Casino on the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians land on Southern California recently completed an energy retrofit project that replaced 10,000 lighting fixtures, saving over $570,000 in annual energy and labor costs. For more project information, see the complete case study here.

Washoe Tribe Building Benchmarking, Audit, and Retrofit Project

The Washoe Tribe (NV, CA) used Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant and local utility funding to perform energy audits and retrofits on 22 administration and community buildings; all energy, GHG, and cost savings will be tracked by benchmarking in EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Improving Energy Efficiency and Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Northern Cheyenne Tribe (southeastern Montana)

This Climate Showcase Community used its grant to fund energy retrofits to the Tribal Environmental Protection Department building. Goals were to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to develop energy efficiency and building-retrofitting skills among community members.
The tribe Exitpartnered with Lakota Solar Enterprises, the local tribal college, the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy and others to complete the project and to develop multiple training courses for community members.

Energy Efficiency and Tribes
According to the Intertribal Council On Utility PolicyExit, up to ninety cents of every dollar a tribe spends on energy is spent outside of their community. Improving energy efficiency not only reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere from energy use, but also lowers energy costs and creates local economic development opportunities.

Read on to learn about programs, guidance, case studies, financing and tools to support energy efficiency in tribal communities.

Tribal Benefits of Energy Efficiency
Improving energy efficiency is one of the most affordable and immediate ways to improve energy self-sufficiency, control energy costs, improve local air quality and public health, and limit a community’s carbon emissions and insulate its exposure to climate impacts. The many benefits of energy efficiency include:

  • Health & Environment - Using energy efficient products reduces harmful air pollution, which improves local air quality and reduces our impacts on natural resources. It also helps to lower greenhouse gas emissions and limit climate change, reducing health and environmental impacts on current and future generations.
  • Economic - Improving energy efficiency costs significantly less than investing in local energy generation. Energy efficiency can also strengthen the local economy, and lower energy billsfor families, businesses, schools, and tribal governments.
  • Housing - Improving insulation, plugging air leaks and using energy efficient heating and cooling systems can make homes more comfortable and controls energy costs.

Energy Efficiency Opportunities
There are many ways for tribes to become more energy efficient:

  • Building Codes - Building codes have many benefits when properly developed and implemented. Tribes, as sovereign nations, may adopt codes for construction on tribal lands that encourage or require sustainable, culturally appropriate, healthy and affordable buildings.
  • Building Energy Audits - Energy audits give home and building owners a sense of how energy is being used and what can be done to use less energy and to save money. Some electric utilities offer free energy audits and financial incentives.
  • Heating and Cooling – Maintenance and use of programmable thermostats, heat reflecting roofing materials, and passive solar heating and cooling all reduce energy demand.
  • Air Sealing and Insulation – Sealing and insulating of a home – its outer walls, ceiling, windows, doors, and floors- is often the most cost-effective way to improve energy efficiency and comfort. Sealing heating and cooling ducts can help improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems.
  • Energy Efficient Equipment – Save energy and fight climate change with ENERGY STAR certified products. They use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment. Learn how to save energy at home with ENERGY STAR.
  • Power Generation - Switching out old, inefficient motors and generators for newer models reduces electricity costs, and bolsters tribal energy self-sufficiency. Just make sure to dispose of old models in the proper way.





  • EPA’s Portfolio Manager is an interactive energy management tool that allows building owners and managers to track and assess energy and water consumption across their entire portfolio of buildings online.
  • EPA’s Home Energy Yardstick provides a simple assessment of your home’s annual energy use compared to similar homes.


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Renewable Energy

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Using Green Power to Protect the Environment, Save Money – Forest County Potawatomi Community (Crandon, Wisconsin)

After completing an energy audit and undertaking energy efficiency initiatives, this EPA Green Power Partner purchased renewable energy credits and installed a 132-panel solar array on an administrative building in Milwaukee. In 2013, the Forest County Potawatomi Community (FCPC) plans to complete construction of an anaerobic digester at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, with a goal of offsetting 30 percent of the energy costs for the FCPC.

In total, the FCPC uses 100 percent renewable energy, either purchased or from onsite resources, for their electricity needs.

Learn from Other Tribes

The Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Clearinghouse (TEEIC) website hosts a database of tribal case studies.






The U.S. Department of Energy lists renewable energy projects funded by the Tribal Energy Program.

Renewable Energy and Tribes 
There is great potential to develop clean, renewable energy resources on tribal lands. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates (PDF)(56pp, 4.4M, About PDF) that tribal lands comprise 2% of U.S. land but contain 5% of all U.S. renewable energy resources. Many tribal lands are well-situated to meet their own energy needs as well as contribute to regional and national demand for renewable energy.

Read on to learn about programs, guidance, case studies and financing to support energy and energy infrastructure development on tribal lands.

Tribal Benefits of Renewable Energy
Investing in renewable energy technologies could provide many benefits for tribes:

  • Economic - Renewable energy infrastructure can help protect communities from fluctuations in both the supply and price of conventional energy sources, build tribal economic stability through a steady revenue stream, and contribute to tribal energy security and self-determination by providing sustainable energy for tribal needs.
  • Employment and Education - Local energy production or utility-scale facilities can create new jobs in manufacturing, operations, and maintenance. Installing wind turbines, solar heaters, and solar panels in the community provides opportunities for hands-on education and training for skilled technical careers.
  • Health and Environment - Renewable energy produces few air pollutants and can help improve local air quality and people’s health and quality of life, all while causing minimal disruption to the environment.
  • Housing and Community Resources - Onsite renewable power can provide electricity in rural areas underserved by the existing power grid, and contribute to tribal energy self-sufficiency.
  • Climate Change and Extreme Weather - Developing local renewable energy resources improves community resilience to climate change impacts and extreme weather disruptions.

Renewable Energy Opportunities
While there are many renewable energy sources for tribes to pursue, each one comes with trade-offs and potential environmental and aesthetic impacts. Each community will have to weigh the value of clean local energy against the potential land and water impacts caused by new renewable energy sources.

  • Solar (photovoltaic, solar thermal) – Solar technologies can be scaled to provide onsite energy for homes, buildings or large installations that provide energy for the utility grid.
  • Wind – Wind power can be produced by a single stand-alone turbine, a small-scale system that is connected to an existing power grid, or a utility-scale wind farm comprised of hundreds to thousands of turbines.
  • HydropowerHydropower plants convert the energy of moving water to electricity. Large- and small-scale hydropower technologies can produce energy, supply water, and control flooding.
  • Biomass and Biofuels – Utility-scale and small-scale distributed biomass power projects can be powered by locally-available, sustainably-produced feedstocks (animal and municipal solid wastes, wood or crop residues, or crops used to produce energy), and can transmit electricity across a large area or for a single home or small community. Biomass can also be converted to biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is produced by fermentation from crops like corn, sorghum, and sugar cane and used as gasoline. Biodiesel is produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats, mostly from restaurants. Many tribes are using biodiesel to fuel tribal fleets.
  • Geothermal Geothermal energy is heat from the earth that can be used to heat and cool homes or to run utility-scale power plants. It can also be used to heat greenhouses and to dry crops. Most of the U.S. geothermal potential is in the western states where tribal populations are also concentrated.

Other Resources

  • U.S. Department of Energy’s Tribal Energy Program provides financial and technical assistance for tribes to evaluate and develop renewable energy resources and reduce energy consumption. The website provides information about funding opportunities, existing projects, education and training, and technical assistance. 
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development helps Indian communities gain economic self-sufficiency through the development of their energy and mineral resources.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Renewable Energy Opportunities website is a portal for tribes to present opportunities for industries to build new facilities on tribal lands.
  • ITEP’s Tribal Clean Energy Resource Center (TCERC) is a multi-disciplinary collaborative that helps tribal professionals develop expertise and capacity in the clean and renewable energy fields, and advances the development of clean and renewable energy sources on tribal lands. 
  • EPA’s Green Power Partnership Program provides technical and communications assistance and recognition opportunities to organizations that use renewable energy to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional electricity use.
  • Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) is a coalition of entities interested in developing Alaska’s renewable energy sources.
  • Lakota Solar Enterprises is the first Native American-owned and operated renewable energy company. It offers jobs training and manufactures solar heating systems.
  • Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, an offshoot of Lakota Solar Enterprises, is an educational facility where tribes from all over the nation can receive hands-on training on renewable energy applications from fellow Native American trainers.
  • Solar Energy International is a nonprofit educational organization that helps others use renewable energy resources and sustainable building technologies through training and technical assistance.




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Learn from Other Tribes

EPA’s Tribal Solid Waste Journals present case studies of how tribes are taking advantage of opportunities in waste management:

The Gila River Indian Community Recycling Program

The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) has been expanding its recycling program since it began in 1995 with a cardboard initiative. With the assistance of a Climate Showcase Communities Grant, broad partnerships, and community participation, GRIC established a residential recycling program that now offers bimonthly curbside collection in the participating districts. As of October 2012, the 18th month of the program, GRIC residents had recycled 117 tons of materials (~6 tons monthly) with 40% participation, and had reduced emissions by 327 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. View more information about the GRIC project.

Tribal Solid Waste and Materials Management 
Waste disposal can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in the following ways:

  • Waste incineration, or burning trash, emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 310 times as potent as CO2.
  • Transporting waste to disposal sites is typically done with trucks that burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases.
  • Decomposition of wastes in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times as potent as CO2.

Using fewer disposable materials, reusing products, recycling what is no longer usable, and recovering energy created during the disposal process are all opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, managing waste responsibly can protect tribal lands from pollution, serve as an energy source, and produce high-quality soil amendments (e.g. mulch, compost or fertilizers).

Read on to learn about programs, guidance, case studies, and financing that support tribal solid waste and materials management.

Tribal Benefits of Solid Waste and Materials Management

  • Environment - Current waste management practices can contaminate/degrade local water and air quality; alternative approaches avoid pollution, improving air and water quality. Recycling also reduces the need to harvest or mine virgin resources such as trees, oil and minerals, thus preserving the environment.
  • Economic - Alternative approaches to waste management provide opportunities for new economic development such as compost facilities and recycling programs, both of which may create jobs and marketable products.
  • Cultural - Waste management may help protect cultural values by conserving vital resources and minimizing the environmental impact of materials throughout their entire life cycles, ensuring that tribal resources will be available for future generations.
  • Health - Burning and storing waste can lead to local health concerns; alternative materials management approaches avoid pollution, improving air quality and the health of residents.

Solid Waste and Materials Management Opportunities
There are many ways for tribes to benefit from transitioning to more sustainable solid waste and materials management:

  • RecyclingManufacturing goods from recycled materials generally uses less energy and results in lower greenhouse emissions than producing goods from virgin materials. Source reduction and recycling also help to increase carbon storage in forests by limiting the need to cut down trees for raw materials, preserve oil and natural gas resources, and reduce the environmental impacts associated with aluminum and steel production. For more information about common recyclables, visit the U.S. EPA's “How Do I Recycle?” webpage.
  • Responsible Appliance Disposal – Collection and proper recycling of older refrigerant-containing appliances saves energy, prevents emissions of greenhouse gases and substances that harm the ozone layer, and helps keep communities clean by preventing appliance dumping and release of hazardous materials such as mercury and PCBs. EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal Program has more information about appliance recycling best practices.
  • Composting – Food scraps, yard trimmings, and compostable products can be diverted from the landfill into home composting or industrial composting facilities. Organic waste can be turned into high-quality soil amendments (e.g. mulch, compost, and fertilizers), which can be sold or used in agricultural or landscaping operations. Organic waste disposed of in a landfill contributes to methane emissions and leachate that result from landfilling.
  • Combustion with Energy Recovery – Energy recovery at incineration facilities and landfills helps conserve resources by reducing the use of fossil fuels. The recovery and use of landfill gas also helps reduce methane emissions from landfills. EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program can help tribes assess project feasibility, find financing, and market the benefits of project development to the community. Tribes can also earn revenue from selling Landfill Gas Energy directly to end users or into the pipeline, or from selling electricity generated from landfill gas to the grid. Learn about energy recovery options here.
  • Consumer Reduction and Reuse – Using fewer disposable goods and reusing goods that still work prevents pollution, saves energy and money, and helps preserve the environment for future generations. For more information about the benefits of and opportunities to reduce waste and reuse products, visit the U.S. EPA’s Reducing and Reusing Basics website.

Other Resources



  • Tribal Solid Waste Program Costing Tool. This EPA tool was developed to help tribes determine the economic feasibility of tribal-operated waste management services.
  • Waste Reduction Model (WARM). This EPA tool is intended to help solid waste planners and organizations track and voluntarily report greenhouse gas emissions reductions from several different waste management practices.
  • Policy and Program Impact Estimator. This EPA calculator expands the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) framework to include a community's existing waste stream and policy and program options. Designed to help municipalities, counties, and tribes estimate reductions in life cycle GHGs from implementing new or expanded solid waste policies and programs.


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Additional Benefits

Tribal communities can also benefit from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change in other ways:

  • Clean energy jobs can provide employment for tribal members. See the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Education and Workforce Development pages for more information.
  • Adoption of tribal green building codes to ensure safe, sustainable, affordable, and culturally appropriate buildings on tribal lands.
  • Energy efficiency improvements, using renewable energy and waste reduction programs can all help improve air quality and improve public health. For more information, visit EPA’s report – Assessing the Multiple Benefits of Clean Energy.
  • Climate change impacts and adaptation strategies vary across the country and across sectors. EPA’s Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation pages explain how communities can improve their future resilience and quality of life by planning and preparing today for climate change impacts of the future.