Last week, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell issued a secretarial order to encourage cooperation with federally recognized tribes in the management of federal lands. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“This announcement gives the appearance that DOI is committed to tribal self-determination, when in fact it’s more obfuscation that fails to fulfill our federal trust obligation. If the Obama administration was sincere about improving tribal self-governance, they would start by reversing policies they’ve imposed on tribes without the authority to do so and without meaningful consultation.”
DOI’s venting and flaring rule:
DOI’s hydraulic fracturing rule:
Yesterday, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the destruction of four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:“The administration’s priorities are crystal clear when the federal government takes more time to study and approve plans for a single dam than it took to send a man to the moon. They spend a lot of time focusing on dam removal when they should be prioritizing plans to construct new, multi-purpose water storage. Our nation is missing out on cheaper, cleaner and more abundant sources of energy while drought stricken communities grasp for much needed water storage, thanks to the administration's narrow-mindedness. In the absence of announcements from the administration to move forward on long-delayed water projects, this symbolizes they are more concerned with removing water infrastructure than building it." Read More
In abiding to a recent court order that vacated the Obama Administration’s withdrawal of a proposed rule to list the North American wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has reopened public comment on a proposed threatened listing. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“The courts have become a de-facto arm of the executive in charge of ESA policy under the Obama Administration.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is in a box and, no matter what they do, they will be sued. Tragically, the wolverine isn’t the only species that’s held hostage by the very same groups that claim to be helping these creatures. Many on the extreme left care less about recoveries than they do raising money for their lawyers to keep suing on the taxpayers’ dime. Ironically, it’s often at the expense of species recovery and a drain on resources that could be used to improve outcomes.
“The Administration must realize that without reforms to ESA rich and powerful special interests, rather than science and public input, will continue to drive ESA policy.”Read More
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a new rule that will provide regional fishery management councils with more flexibility in catch limits. The rule is aligned with a provision in the Committee’s H.R. 1335 (Rep. Don Young, R-AK), the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act.”
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“It is disappointing that NOAA's rule, which follows Congress' lead to enact common sense legislation to give more flexibility to regional fishery councils, comes in the ninth inning of the last game of the administration's horrible season. This signals that regional management has not been a priority for them, even though it is critical for the domestic seafood industry. Allowing the regional councils flexibility such as this is a cornerstone of H.R. 1335, and this rule further underscores the need for Senate action on this legislation.
“What our fishing communities need is statutory certainty, not unpredictable rules that can change from one administration to the next. Without an updated statute that offers the force of law, regulatory uncertainty in this area and others pose unnecessary barriers to the industry’s growth and job creation.”
Background: H.R. 1335 will reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law governing fisheries resource management in offshore federal waters. The Committee passed the bill on April 30, 2015 and the House passed it on June 1, 2015.
Click here to learn more about H.R. 1335.Read More
Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized revisions to how the federal government measures and verifies oil and gas production rates on federal lands (Onshore Orders 3, 4 and 5). House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“The Administration is good at issuing new regulations that ignore input from the folks they seek to overregulate. That’s what they’ve done here.
"Ensuring transparency in the calculation of royalties is a shared goal, but imposing this severe regulatory burden is counterproductive. Collectively, these regulations will crush current and future energy development and result in large royalty losses. Once again, the Administration’s regulations will end up undercutting their stated goal for the rewrite in the first place.
“The BLM should go back to square one and this time engage industry stakeholders at the onset to craft a rule beneficial to both taxpayers and the regulated community.”
In November 2015, Chairman Bishop expressed concerns in a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze about the lack of stakeholder engagement during the revision process.Read More
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe of southwestern Colorado has a higher long-term credit rating than Wells Fargo & Co., and more oil and natural-gas wells than it has members.
Welcome to the other side of the tribal land energy conundrum.
While the Standing Rock Sioux have drawn considerable media coverage for their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline project, the Southern Utes have attracted scant attention for their 15-year push to make it easier to drill on Indian land. Their goal: Extend financial opportunities that have already given them control of 1,600 wells across four states, and helped make them one of the richest tribes in the U.S.
“Without a prolonged effort to take control of our natural resources, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe would not be the economic powerhouse it is today,” Tribal Council Treasurer James Olguin told lawmakers in a congressional hearing last week. “We are the best protectors of our own resources and the best stewards of our own destiny.”
Since 2012, the Southern Ute tribe has spent $1.6 million lobbying Washington to ease energy permits, ensure tribal sovereignty and lighten U.S. Interior Department rules on fracking and methane emissions, according to the Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Act database. That’s three times more than Pioneer Natural Resources Co., a shale driller with more than $32 billion in market value.
While the Standing Rock Sioux vowed last week to keep fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline after a federal court declined to halt construction, the Southern Utes met with U.S. lawmakers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to argue for new laws loosening federal control over their drilling operations. They were joined by representatives of the Navajo Nation, the largest U.S. tribe, and the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., owned by Alaska natives.
The three groups called on Congress and the Interior Department to streamline permitting on Indian lands and give tribes more control over energy leasing and environmental reviews.
The argument resonated with some Republican lawmakers.
“Nearly every aspect of energy development on tribal lands is influenced or controlled by the federal government, a policy stemming from old notions that Indian tribes are incapable of or unwilling to manage their resources,” Utah Republican Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said during the hearing.
For Democrats, environmental concerns outweigh questions about sovereignty. Last year, only 11 Democratic representatives voted in favor of legislation to streamline tribal energy permitting.
The Southern Ute reservation, tucked into Colorado’s San Juan Basin, sits atop one of the most productive coal-bed methane gas fields in the country. The tribe, with about 1,500 members, manages energy resources through the Red Willow Production Co. It was founded in 1992 to develop wells on the reservation, and has expanded into the Delaware Basin in Texas, the Green River Basin in Wyoming and the Gulf of Mexico.
A Ute named Yellow Nose was credited with killing General George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, according to a tribal history. Four years later, following two key battles that left dozens on both sides dead, the tribe’s leader Ouray traveled to Washington for treaty negotiations that cost the Utes tribal land. In 1905, then-chief Buckskin Charley met President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, and rode in his inaugural parade.
More recent efforts to influence policy have yielded limited success. Congress has passed bills to streamline the permitting process on tribal lands and trim project delays. That’s a positive step, the tribe has said, but it doesn’t address a fundamental problem: the federal government treats tribal lands as public lands, exercising the same level of oversight as over national parks.
“Some of it is historic artifact,” said Eric Henson, a fellow at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. “It wasn’t that long ago that the non-tribal world viewed tribes as incompetent, incapable, unable to manage their own affairs. So we have this treaty framework where we say ‘We’ll take care of it for them.’”
That puts tribes at a competitive disadvantage, the tribe’s argument goes: Why invest in tribal lands, requiring years of costly environmental review and a lengthy permit process, when you can be in operation elsewhere within weeks?
Colorado typically issues drilling permits within two months of receiving applications, and charges no permit fee. To drill on Southern Ute land, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management charges a $9,500 fee and on average takes seven months to process permits on public lands. In the case of tribes, there may be additional delays related to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’s role in the permitting process.
That’s problematic for development, the Harvard Project’s Henson said. While some tribes have access to considerable oil and gas reserves, few develop them, hindered by a lack of capital and technical experience, or waylaid by the permitting process.
For tribes rich in natural resources, energy production can create the tax base needed to provide crucial services for members.
Olguin emphasized this at last week’s hearing. “Today, the tribe provides health insurance for its tribal members, promises all members a college education and has a campus dotted with state-of-the-art buildings," he said at the hearing. This is "despite the federal government’s stifling role in Indian energy development.”
Tribal officials say the Obama administration is attuned to Native Americans’ concerns, as evidenced by its response to the controversial Dakota Access pipeline. Shortly after a U.S. district court denied a request to stop construction of the $3.8 billion project, the Obama administration halted work on the contested stretch of land.
But tribe-sanctioned production of fossil fuels remains a quagmire for the administration, which has adopted a strong stance on climate change.
"There’s tension even within the Obama administration on the issue of tribal sovereignty," said Thomas Shipps, legal counsel to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. "Especially when exercising that sovereignty involves the development of fossil fuels."Click HERE to view the article online.
Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and House Oversight and Government Reform Interior Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting a briefing. Specifically, the chairmen request DOJ explain its decision not to pursue criminal charges related to EPA’s Gold King Mine disaster that were referred to DOJ by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG).
EPA OIG reportedly found evidence of criminal wrongdoing including violation of the Clean Water Act and providing false statements in a criminal investigation.
Key excerpts from the letter:
"OIG stated that it had found evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the EPA. These included providing false statements in a criminal investigation and violation of the Clean Water Act. The OIG told congressional staff participants that it had referred these criminal findings to the United States Attorney for the District of Colorado. However, the OIG went on to say that the U.S. Attorney, on the same day, declined to prosecute these charges.
"By not taking up the case, the Department of Justice looks like it is going easy on its colleagues in EPA. Its lack of action on these charges give the appearance of hypocrisy, and seem to indicate that there is one set of rules for private citizens and another for the federal government. The EPA disaster deserves the same level of accountability to which private citizens are held.
"In order to assist the Committees, we ask that you provide the Committees with a briefing on the Department’s decision not to take up the OIG’s recommendation of criminal charges. Furthermore, research conducted by Oversight Committee staff indicates a large gap between the number of criminal referrals from inspectors general across the federal government and the number of prosecutions taken up by the Department. We request that the briefing take place no later than October 26, 2016."View the letter HERE. Read More
By: Terry L. Anderson and Shawn Regan
As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump court the minority vote, they have paid virtually no attention to one of the most impoverished groups—Native Americans. More than any other group, American Indians are shackled by bureaucratic red tape that deprives them of the same rights and dignity as other Americans.
The continuing debate over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, which would pass near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, highlights the desire of Native Americans to have their voices heard. In that case, the tribe claims they were not sufficiently consulted on the location of the pipeline project that might affect their land and water.
But the question of Indian rights goes far beyond the location of a single pipeline: Shouldn’t Native Americans be free to make their own decisions about the use of natural resources in Indian Country?
When Columbus stumbled into America, indigenous people already had a rich cultural and economic history. Lessons in farming from Eastern tribes are now the stuff of Thanksgiving legend. Vast indigenous trading networks stretched all across the continent. West Coast fishing tribes were so rich that they could afford to destroy some of their wealth, such as canoes, baskets and even food, in “potlatch” ceremonies.
Moreover, Native Americans showed a remarkable ability to adapt to new goods and technology. Italian trade beads became an integral part of American Indian decoration and art. The Spanish horse transformed Plains Indian hunting and warfare.
Over centuries, however, these adaptations and innovations have been replaced by subjugation by the U.S. government. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall declared the Cherokees to be a “domestic dependent nation” and characterized the relationship of tribes to the U.S. as resembling “that of a ward to his guardian.” Marshall’s words were entrenched when Congress became trustee of all Indian lands and resources under the Dawes Act of 1887.
In recent decades, the government has paid lip service to “tribal sovereignty,” but in practice Native Americans have little autonomy. Tribes and individual Indians still cannot own their land on reservations. This means Native Americans cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans, thus allowing them little or no access to credit. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country. Even when tribes try to engage in economic activity, the feds impose mountains of regulations, all in the name of looking after Indian affairs.
As just one example, consider tribes’ inability to develop their natural resources, which was the topic of a field hearing by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee last week in Santa Fe, N.M. Nearly every aspect of energy development on reservations—such as reviews and approvals of even the most basic land-use decisions—is controlled by federal agencies.
By all accounts, though, the federal government has failed to live up to its responsibility as trustee of Indian assets. For instance, a 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office found that poor management by the Bureau of Indian Affairs has hindered Indian energy development, resulting in “missed development opportunities, lost revenue, and jeopardized viability of projects.”
Indian energy resources hold significant potential to help lift tribes out of poverty. Their value, according to an estimate by the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, could be as high as $1.5 trillion.
But the federal government makes it difficult for tribes to capitalize on their resource wealth. On Indian lands, developers must go through 49 steps and at least four federal agencies just to acquire a permit for energy development, compared with only four steps off reservations. It’s not uncommon for several years to pass before the necessary approvals are acquired to begin development on Indian lands—a process that takes only a few months on private lands.
The result is that most tribal energy resources remain undeveloped, even when tribes themselves want to capitalize on their energy wealth. “Willing and able tribes should have greater authority over energy development on tribal lands,” said Mike Olguin of the Southern Ute tribe at the Santa Fe hearing. “In some instances, the best way for the United States to uphold its trust responsibility would be to step aside.”
Last year, both chambers of Congress passed bipartisan legislation that would give tribes greater authority over energy development on their lands. Yet the Obama administration opposes the bill, claiming that it undermines federal oversight of Indian resources.
This Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, politicians shouldn’t just pay lip service to tribal sovereignty. They should give Native Americans the freedom to make their own decisions, not just about energy development, but about the future of their land, cultures and economies.
Mr. Anderson is a senior fellow, and Mr. Regan is a research fellow, at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Mont. Mr. Anderson is the editor and Mr. Regan is a contributing author of “Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations,” (Lexington Press, 2016).
Click HERE to view the article online.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior (DOI) Sally Jewell is developing controversial plans to cordon off approximately 10 million acres of federal lands located in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming from mineral development. The withdrawals are one plank of the Obama administration's broader regulatory scheme to create a de-facto Endangered Species Act listing for the sage grouse. Earlier this week, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released an 800-page assessment of mineral potential within each state subject to potential future withdrawals.
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“This assessment shows significant negative impacts for western states if these withdrawals proceed. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Despite successful species conservation efforts at the state level, and a finding last year that listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted, the Obama administration wants total regulatory control and a much more permanent trophy for litigious environmental groups. Along with oppressive land use plans covering parts of 10 states—with restrictions for all types of economic activities—these withdrawals have the potential to be even more punitive and damaging to energy producers and rural economies than an endangered finding. This is a de-facto listing and then some. USGS’s report is small snapshot of the pain to come. This issue will require continued oversight even after the Obama administration is finally gone. Blocking mineral development by another executive fiat is inexcusable, and the Committee will be sure to keep a close eye on it.
“Secretary Salazar told the states they should adopt sage grouse protection plans and they would be accepted. States have spent time and money to create good plans. The current Secretary is now reneging on that promise. The state plans work and the department’s proposal does not. The department’s proposal hurts military preparedness and military ranges in the West, a fact that has never been taken into consideration.”
Background:At a minimum, the USGS report suggests the withdrawal of such a massive area could have significant negative impacts to nearly 1.3 million acres of moderate to high resource potential. The withdrawal could also affect over 7,000 mining claims across several Western states, including Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Wyoming and Montana. Read More
Washington, D.C. – White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan and U.S. Forest Service (FS) leadership today hosted a national media call on wildfire activity in California and nationally. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement in response to the Administration’s flawed and lackluster priorities related to improving forest health and mitigating increasingly catastrophic wildfire:
“The Administration’s political posturing on wildfire is dangerous. The Forest Service is paralyzed by even the threat of litigation. When the agency spends countless hours bulletproofing environmental documents against frivolous lawsuits, less time is spent treating fire-prone landscapes to prevent the most devastating and ruinous fires. The solution to this problem is active management of our federal forests. The Administration failing to acknowledge or confront this chief barrier to healthy forests is disturbing.
“There must come a point when the growing loss of life, property and ecological carnage compels change in the status quo. More money alone, as the Administration called for once again today, is futile. Not until we provide federal agencies with additional tools to treat unhealthy forests at a greater pace and scale will we have done anything to solve the problem.”
“The House has acted to provide these tools. The Senate should follow Senator Robert's lead and pass this bipartisan solution to restore forest health."
The Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2647), introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), passed the House on July 9, 2015, with bipartisan support. The bill, which did not receive a veto threat from the White House upon passage, is also part of the House-Senate energy conference. On September 14, 2016, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed S.3085, companion legislation to H.R. 2647.
H.R. 2647, if enacted, could be implemented immediately by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to dramatically improve the health and resiliency of our federal forests and rangelands. It simplifies environmental process requirements, decreases project planning times and reduces the cost of implementing forest projects while ensuring robust protection of the environment. H.R. 2647 also addresses “fire-borrowing” in responsible, budget-neutral fashion.
Click here to learn more about the bill.
2016 USDA OIG Report:
Reducing the buildup of hazardous fuels in forest lands has been proven to reduce the extent, severity, and cost of wildfires. In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the Forest Service's mismanagement of the Hazardous Fuels Reduction program. Key findings from the report include that the FS lacks a consistent, cross-agency process for selecting its highest priority hazardous fuels reduction projects for completion; inaccurately reports to Congress the number of acres treated for hazardous fuels, and is double and triple-counting the total number of treated acreage.
Additional Resources on Litigation Impacts:
“If we can find a way to address the concerns that drive litigation, we can increase the pace and scale of the work that needs to be done." "If by adding additional Categorical Exclusions that maintain the public trust...we can continue to use that to get more work done.” (U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, July 2015)
"Forest Service personnel indicated it is quite common for litigation of a single project to have implications or indirect connections to other ongoing or subsequent projects because highly interrelated issues are the basis of many cases. The duration of litigation has a chilling effect on many other projects because of the uncertainty that exists while cases remain in litigation.” (Morgan, Baldridge, Understanding Costs and Impacts of Litigation of Forest Service Projects, Prepared for the U.S. Forest Service, May 2015)
“Western Regions of the Forest Service continue to have project implementation impeded by district and circuit court actions. Over 60 percent of Region One’s budget is spent on environmental analysis to meet and anticipate court challenges.” (Julia Altemus, Montana Wood Products Association, Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, June 2016)Read More
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