O’Halleran bill to expand electricity in Indian Country passes out of committee

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D, CD-1) introduced legislation to assist tribal government on the Navajo Nation with electrification operations.

Contributed Article

VILLAGE OF OAK CREEK – Last week, during a full House Energy and Commerce Committee markup, members voted to pass H.R. 5541, the Tribal Power Act, out of Committee to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Congressman Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ-01) and co-sponsored by Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK-02).

“As many as 15,000 families on the Navajo Nation lack access to any electricity,” said O’Halleran. “My bipartisan legislation will ensure tribal governments can access the federal resources they need to build out electrification operations and expand new energy infrastructure.”

The Tribal Power Act aids tribal energy development by:

  • reauthorizing the Department of Energy’s Indian Energy Education Planning and Management Assistance Program at $30 million annually from FY 2021-2025;
  • expanding the program to include remote Alaskan tribes;
  • granting the Director of the Office of Indian Energy the authority to reduce the cost-share threshold required for grants awarded under the program to 10% if a tribe meets established criteria for severe financial need;
  • requiring the Department of Energy to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the availability and reliability of electricity for those residing in tribal communities or on tribal land.

During the hearing, Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (NJ-06) praised the Tribal Power Act and urged swift passage, saying, “I want to thank Reps. O’Halleran and Mullin for introducing H.R. 5541, the Tribal Power Act. As we heard from our witnesses at last week’s hearing, there are significant problems for tribal communities with respect to energy affordability and access. H.R. 5541 won’t correct every energy problem faced by tribal communities, but it makes a start by improving the program that was authorized to address their problems. DOE must do more to make energy affordable and accessible for all members of tribal communities. I hope we will be able to do more to reduce disparities and fulfill our commitments to tribes. I understand that Mr. O’Halleran has an amendment – approved by both sides – to make some small improvements to the bill based on DOE technical assistance, but this is already a good bill and I urge all members to support it.”

As part of the 30-bill markup, O’Halleran voted in favor of legislation to protect and expand Medicaid and Medicare and improve the availability of mental health resources. Among the bills voted out of Committee were two cosponsored by O’Halleran:

  • H.R. 4194, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, requiring the Federal Communications Commission to designate 9–8–8 as the universal number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline;
  • and H.R. 1646, the Helping Emergency Responder Overcome (HERO) Act, requiring the CDC to capture public safety officer suicide incidences and study successful interventions, authorize grants for peer support behavioral health and wellness programs within fire departments and emergency medical service agencies, and require the development of best practices for addressing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Tom O’Halleran is running for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District.

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