Former leader of Office in Indian Energy moves to new role
By Kevin Gale
hristopher “Chris” Deschene (Navajo) has moved from the public to the private sector while continuing to support energy development in Indian Country.
With a change in administrations, Deschene recently completed a two-year run as director of the Office of Indian Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy. His new role is joining Rosette Law as a partner in its Washington, D.C., office where he will lead the firm’s energy development practice.
Prior to his service in government, Deschene spent 10 years as a partner with the Law Offices of Schaff & Clark Deschene, focusing largely on business and energy development on tribal, state, and federal lands. He has served as general counsel and advisor to tribes, tribal energy partnerships and non-Indian energy and business entities.
Deschene is a former member of the Arizona House of Representatives and completed two tours in the Persian Gulf with the U.S. Marine Corps, where he attained the rank of major.
In an interview with TBJ, Deschene said he will continue to look at advanced Indian energy policy and the frameworks needed as the energy industry changes.
Rosette was particularly attractive for his practice because firm leader Robert Rosette has a fundamental belief in supporting tribes and their sovereignty work while offering creative solutions for tribes, Deschene said.
A key goal for Deschene is to continue educating tribal leaders and professionals on opportunities in the energy field and how their efforts can be sustainable.
Without leadership invested in such efforts, it “really doesn’t go anywhere,” Deschene says.
While questions have been raised about how much the Trump administration will support the DOE, Deschene says there is potential to develop good legislation that will promote development of tribal energy opportunities.
Deschene supports a move by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, to set up a DOE tribal energy loan guarantee program.
A press release issued by Franken on May 12 hailed passage of $9 million in funding for the program in a Senate appropriations bill. Leveraging the funds could lead to $85 million in energy projects, the press release estimated.
“This is a big win for Indian Country,” said Franken, who is a member of the Senate Energy and Indian Affairs Committees. “Developing tribal energy resources will help bring power to the most remote parts of tribal lands by improving access to reliable energy and it will provide much needed jobs.”
Deschene said he learned at DOE that there was a spectrum of technical assistance needed by tribes. That usually starts with a request and leads to strategic energy plans and feasibility work.
The subsequent steps can involve more complex requirements and Deschene found that tribes become more proficient as they learn the process, including applying for grants and seeking funding opportunities.
Complex efforts to develop projects is “where real dollars are needed and required,” he said. The limited dollars at DOE meant the agency “didn’t have the capacity to do big support like a tribal loan guarantee program.”
Deschene sees energy as another way for tribal leaders to support their sovereign activities.
He points to how the tribal gaming industry, led by the Native Indian Gaming Association, has detailed its economic impact with revenue near $30 billion, which leads to better understanding by Congress.
The U.S. energy sector is a multitrillion industry, but the tribal energy component is less than 1 percent of the industry, Deschene says. He thinks there is the potential to create a $30 billion tribal energy industry that would rival gaming.
With less than 2 percent of U.S. land, tribes can provide 5 percent of renewable energy by some estimates, Deschene notes. This could fundamentally support the nation’s energy independence.
“If we are trying to reduce carbon, tribes are in a unique position to deploy technology to help that effort,” he says. “We need to change the way we are supporting program offices, deployment and staffing to help Indian Country develop infrastructure and economies.”
There is a lot of diversity in Indian Country when it comes to energy, Deschene says.
The DOE during his tenure was fuel neutral in terms of helping tribes with projects whether they were fossil fuel or renewable, Deschene says. “Tribes have sovereign rights to make decisions for their benefits.”
For example, many tribes opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline to defend water while other tribes are developing energy resources from Bakken Shale.
He suggests that tribes should develop a responsible sustainable portfolio that respects the diversity of their resources.
Even if the goal is to move towards renewable energy, time may be needed for a transition to prevent economic harm, he says. One example is how the Navajo and Hopi tribes are showing concerns about the closure of a major power plant.
The DOE is now led overall by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who once called for the elimination of DOE. (He has since apologized for doing so.)
During Perry’s confirmation hearing, there were indications he was sensitive to Native American and Alaska Native concerns when he was questioned by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
A transcript on C-Span has comments from Perry saying he had a lengthy conversation with Murkowski about the challenges Alaska and Native Alaskans face about development from an economic and environmental perspective.
Perry indicated he was supportive of comments made by Murkowski regarding innovations in electrical generation, such as micro nuclear reactors and tidal energy production.
A big question is how the Trump administration’s budget will impact DOE and the Indian Energy Office.
Deschene says, “It’s now incumbent on Congress and Indian Country to say these guys at Indian Energy did a tremendous job with the few resources they had. Why do we want to cut in half and handicap their work for Indian Country’s benefit? We can fully say that with the limited resources and lack of staff we had we were able to deploy resources throughout Indian Country that have changed the framework and built the tribal energy industry and leadership. The way to stop that is to stop funding it.” ♦
New Leader at Office of Indian Energy
William C. Bradford (Chiricahua Apache) is the new director of the Office of Indian Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Prior to joining the DOE, Bradford was attorney general of the Chiricahua Apache Nation.
Bradford developed and implemented legal and political strategies to lead the tribe toward reclamation of territory and sovereignty, according to his LinkedIn biography. He also advised tribal leadership on the effects of proposed legislation, regulations, and policies and reviewed and evaluated judicial decisions and authored legal documents/reports.
Bradford has impressive academic credentials: a doctorate in political science from Northwestern University, a masters of laws from Harvard Law School, a law degree from the University of Miami and an MBA from the University of Florida, his biography on the DOE site states.
Bradford also served in the U.S. Army as a special advisor, strategic intelligence officer and military police officer, his resume shows.
Bradford has a body of scholarly work that includes many Native American topics. He said in an email that he is currently working on an article entitled, ìSun Tzu Indians: The Art of Tribal Prosperityî with co-author Dr. Gavin Clarkson.
His past works include ìBeyond Reparations: An American Indian Theory of Justice,î ìAnother Such Victory and We Are Undone: Toward an American Indian Declaration of Independence,î ìWith a Very Great Blame On Our Hearts; Reparations, Reconciliation, and an American Indian Plea for Peace with Justice,î and ìReclaiming Indigenous Legal Autonomy on the Path to Peaceful Coexistence: The Theory, Practice, and Limitations of Tribal Peacemaking in Indian Dispute Resolution.î
Bradford has encountered several controversies during his career.
One involved an article in the National Security Law Journal entitled Trahison des Professeurs (Treason of the Professors).
Bradford wrote that there is a ìcritical cadre of American law of armed conflict academics whose scholarship and advocacy constitute information warfare that tilts the battlefield against U.S. Forces. Ö This psychological warfare by American elites against their own people is celebrated by Islamists as a portent of U.S. weakness and the coming triumph of Islamism over the West.î
Bradford suggested that strong action could be justified against some academics, which created a backlash when reported by The Guardian and The Atlantic.
Bradford was traveling as TBJ was nearing deadline, but will be interviewed for a future issue of TBJ.