Three Native American tribes who face major climate threats are the first recipients of money from a new federal program designed to help move tribal homes and vital buildings and facilities out of areas threatened by flooding, erosion and other hazards.
Two tribes in Alaska and one in Washington state are each getting $25 million to help their ongoing efforts to relocate homes, schools, airports, water-supply wells and other infrastructure, the Biden administration announced.
The grants are the first allocations from a new voluntary relocation program created under the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted in November 2021, which gave the Bureau of Indian Affairs $216 million for tribal climate resilience including relocation projects.
The administration also announced Wednesday that eight other tribes threatened by climate change will get $5 million each in planning grants to develop strategies for relocation or increased climate resilience. Four of the tribes are in Alaska, and the others are in Arizona, California, Louisiana and Maine.
The funding—$115 million in total—represents a fraction of the $5 billion that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has estimated Native American tribes need for relocation as they face “existential threats to their economies, livelihoods and health” from climate impacts.
In Alaska alone, 73 out of 227 federally recognized Alaska Native villages face “significant environmental threats” from erosion, flooding or thawing permafrost,” according to a Government Accountability Office report in May. Alaska is warming at a faster rate than any state (Greenwire, May 19).
“Helping these communities move to safety on their homelands is one of the most important climate related investments we could make in Indian Country,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement announcing the grants.
The grants were announced at the White House Tribal Nations Summit, at which President Joe Biden told hundreds of tribal leaders that he would protect from development 450,000 acres of cherished land in southern Nevada.
The tribes receiving relocation grants are the Newtok Village and the Native Village of Napakiak, both in Alaska, and the Quinault Indian Nation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
Both of the Alaska Native villages are threatened by coastal erosion from increasingly severe ocean storms that is projected to destroy vital infrastructure in a few years. The Newtok Village is moving to a new site nine miles away. The Native Village of Napakiak has developed plans for relocation but the project has been delayed by a lack of funding, according to the Interior Department.
The Quinault Indian Nation sits on the Pacific coast in Washington’s northwest corner and is vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, flooding from the Quinault River and tsunami hazards from earthquakes on the Pacific Rim. The tribe plans to move to higher elevation, but a lack of money has made relocation a piecemeal process.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.