September 24, 2012

A bill to lease tribal land for energy development?

A bill that could speed up the process to lease tribal lands for energy development — such as mineral and renewable energy exploration — is waiting on a vote from the U.S. Senate.

The bill, introduced last October by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Sept. 13.

The bill aims to modify a section of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which tried but failed to give tribes more control over leasing and business agreements on tribal land and accelerate the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ leasing process.

The leasing process on tribal lands is governed by the same laws as leasing on any other public land, but it is also subject to more extensive laws, according to Barrasso’s office.

“Compliance with these additional layers of laws and bureaucracy takes significant time and money and creates uncertainty,” wrote Barrasso press secretary Laura Mengelkamp in an email Wednesday.

The previous change has gone unused. In the years since the bill’s passage, no tribes have developed energy resources under the new process.

Irene Cuch, chairwoman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee in northeast Utah, told the committee at an April hearing that the process still had problems.

“Despite our progress, the tribe’s ability to fully benefit from its resources is limited by the federal agencies overseeing oil and gas development on the reservation,” she said. “As the oil and gas companies who operate on the tribe’s reservation often tell the tribe, the federal oil and gas permitting process is the single biggest risk factor to operations on the reservation.”

Barrasso said in a release that the 2012 amendments would open important opportunities on tribal lands.

“In Indian Country, energy development means jobs,” he said. “For far too long, bureaucratic red tape has prevented the pursuit of tribal economic development opportunities, especially energy development. This legislation will reverse that trend by removing road blocks and streamlining the process under current law.”

Wyoming is home to one Indian reservation — Wind River — which stretches from just west of Shoshoni west to the Shoshone National Forest and is home to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. Calls to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone business councils, which regularly conduct business on behalf of their tribes, were not returned Wednesday.

The bill specifically cuts the allotted time for review of tribal energy resource agreements — which give tribes authority to review and approve leases and business agreements on tribal lands — from 270 days to 120. It also amends portions of the 2005 bill to give tribal groups more “capacity to manage” energy resources and adds intertribal organizations to the list of groups that can participate in loan guarantee programs.

The new bill — called the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2012 — would also require the U.S. secretary of the interior to consult with tribal groups before authorizing well-spacing programs that could affect their energy resources.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; and John Thune, R-S.D.

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