Infrastructure Series: Tribes And Infrastructure

Infrastructure needs are significant across the country, but it would be hard to find any locality or region where the needs are higher than in Indian Country. In recent years, both Congress and the Administration have taken steps to increase available funding for infrastructure servicing tribes. There has also been a renewed focus on ensuring that tribes have a voice in the development of private infrastructure projects that impact tribal lands or interests. In this issue of our Infrastructure Series, we offer our views on (1) a number of new and proposed funding sources for infrastructure development on tribal lands; and (2) effective engagement of tribes in private infrastructure projects, including a number of specific recommendations for developers of projects that cross tribal lands or may impact tribal interests.

Funding Infrastructure in Indian Country: Some Steps in the Right Direction

For Indian communities, decades of underinvestment have resulted in decaying or nonexistent infrastructure across every sector—from electricity to broadband to water to transportation. In 2009, during the congressional debate regarding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the National Congress of American Indians presented a Tribal Recovery Plan requesting at least $6.13 billion in federal investment to develop and maintain infrastructure in Indian Country's schools, homes, tribal government buildings, roads and bridges, water and waste water facilities, public safety buildings, health facilities, emergency and broadband networks, and energy and natural resource facilities. The need has only grown since then. For example, while 1% of the US general population lacks access to safe water supplies, 9% of Indian homes lack such access.1 Also, 14.2% of tribal households lack access to the most basic electricity service.2 And 35% of Americans living on tribal lands lack access to broadband at speeds deemed eligible for advanced telecommunications services, as compared with only about 2% of those living in urban centers.3

Recognizing these needs, Congress has taken recent action to increase the resources available for infrastructure development in Indian Country. The recently enacted omnibus appropriations bill includes approximately $355 million for construction projects in Indian Country related to schools, public safety and law enforcement facilities, and natural resource development.4 This amount is over $200 million above the amount requested in the Trump 2018 budget. Of particular note, it appears that with the increased construction appropriation, Congress is jump-starting the program it authorized in late 2016 through the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act to...

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