Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska

Rep. Young and Tribes Protest BIA's Tight Restrictions on Energy Development

ICTMN Staff
4/5/11

Tribal leaders and lawmakers on April 1 discussed the need for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to loosen its leash hindering energy development on Indian land, reported the Great Falls Tribune.

Numerous hurdles prevent tribes from energy development, despite the huge potential for extracting the estimated 10 percent of the nation's renewable and nonrenewable energy resources located on tribal lands, stated the Great Falls Tribune. "Over 15 million acres of Indian lands with energy resources have not been developed," said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, reported the World Washington Bureau.

"I don't want BIA to be a deterrent,'' Young declared in the hearing, reported the World Washington Bureau. During his speech, he questioned why the agency should be involved at all in tribes' energy development, calling the hierarchical supervision a "Big Daddy" approach by the federal government.

"They've become a stagnated agency over the years, and they're not letting Indian nations progress," Young told tribal leaders. "If they can't do the job, we need to write legislation so you people can get on your feet," which would involve changing the BIA's policies, he added.

Drilling or building renewable energy plants on trust lands requires Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval, as well as the green stamp from the BIA, reported the Great Falls Tribune. But energy projects on federal land only call for the signatures of the BLM and the EPA.

Making matters worse, the BIA's understaffed office and oftentimes outdated mineral ownership records deter it from granting permission or significantly slow the approval process, said Scott Russell, secretary of the Crow Tribe in Montana.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, highlighted the 49 steps involved in getting approval for oil and gas exploration, a process that can take up to two years, reported the Great Falls Tribune. Meanwhile, permission to drill on non-reservation land in North Dakota only mandates four steps, eating up just a week and a half worth of time, Hall said.

The BLM's permitting fees also run higher on reservations, according to the House Natural Resources Committee staff, stated the Great Falls Tribune. For developers on Montana reservations, it costs $6,500 to apply for a permit, compared to about $100 on other state lands, the staff told the Great Falls Tribune.

U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Oklahoma, expressed similar frustration to Young about the BIA's tight reigns on tribal energy development and burdensome bureaucracy, though "with less flair," according to the World Washington Bureau. The top Democrat on the newly formed House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, Boren stated that tribes can excel with fair financial incentives, citing his home state. "In Oklahoma, tribal enterprises are the third-largest employer in the state.''

The former DOI Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb, who now serves as the Chickasaw Nation's leader of business development and diversification, testified on behalf of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. McCaleb referenced the tribe's attempts to use compressed natural gas (CNG) for its leased vehicles and the construction of its first CNG fast fuel station in Ada, Oklahoma, and intentions to open more along the state's major highways, reported the World Washington Bureau. A lack of federal tax credits for bi-fuel cars and a six-month wait to get the EPA to certify its conversions is stalling the tribe's efforts, McCaleb told lawmakers at the hearing.

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