Sorting out the energy bill: Senator Campbell is cautiously hopeful
WASHINGTON - For about as long as it takes to throw the switch on a spotlight, energy held the floor at an unrelated hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., chaired the Sept. 17 hearing on federal recognition for the Lumbee of North Carolina. He greeted Tim Martin, executive director of United South and Eastern Tribes, with gratitude for USET's support of Title III, the Campbell-sponsored Indian-specific clause of the national Energy Policy Act of 2003.
Title III, Campbell said, "is in conference now and looks like it's going to open up huge opportunities for tribes that want it - it's voluntary, tribe by tribe."
The last major action in the Senate prior to Congress' traditional August recess was to pass a compromise energy bill. A conference committee is now meeting to iron out differences between the energy bill as passed in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Over the recess, an electricity blackout in the Northeast brought fresh urgency to the overhaul of the national electricity system, and President George W. Bush publicized his continuing advocacy for oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
Aides to two of the conference committee members said that access to ANWR cannot be included in any bill that has a chance to become law, for there are not enough votes on the Senate floor to change the law on ANWR. Last year in the 107th Congress, an energy bill "died in conference," as the saying goes, because it included provisions that would have opened ANWR.
Debate on Title III concerns a Campbell-backed change in regulatory procedure for tribes that choose to develop their energy resources - they can opt for a "streamlined" process that requires approval from the Secretary of Interior at the outset of a project, but not over ensuing issues. Opponents say the front-loaded approval process will open the door to environmental and other abuses downstream of the authorizing approval. Campbell has responded that tribes are capable of making their own decisions, and in any case the streamlined procedure is optional.
Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Senate Minority Leader and a member of the conference committee (as is Campbell), went to conference opposed to streamlining provisions because they force tribes to choose between sovereignty and economic development.