CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Monday, July 23, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 2362, the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act of 2011, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval. The bill was introduced on June 24, 2011, by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources. The bill was reported by the Natural Resources Committee on November 11, 2011, by a vote of 27-15.
H.R. 2362 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to select up to six Indian tribes to participate in an Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project that facilitates leases of land held in trust by the federal government for investment in Indian tribal economies by private entities from the country of Turkey. The bill would require that leases made under the demonstration project must be made with a private entity from Turkey or another World Trade Organization member. Under H.R. 2362, the leases also must be entered into within one year of enactment, could not be used for the development of mineral resources, and must be executed under the tribal regulations approved by the Interior Department. Leases made under this legislation would not be authorized to exceed 25 years, but could include an option to renew for up to two additional terms, each of which cannot exceed 25 years.
The bill would authorize leases for business and economic development, public, educational or residential purposes, the development or use of natural resources, grazing, and farming of specialized crops. Under the legislation, Tribal regulations governing the lease would have to provide for an environmental review, and must be submitted to and approved by the Interior Department. The federal government would not be liable for losses sustained by any party and the department could cancel any lease executed under the bill's provisions.
H.R. 2362 would also provide the Interior Department with authority to take action in the case of a violation of tribal regulations, and would outline the process by which the participating tribes are chosen. Within a year of enactment, the department would be required submit a report to Congress on the economic benefits and other consequences to the participating tribes, as well as recommendations to improve the operation or consequences of the demonstration project.
According to the Natural Resources Committee, economic development on tribal lands is hampered by restrictive laws and regulations regarding the way tribes lease their lands. For example, simple leases can take a tribe several years to complete, in contrast to a simple lease on private land that can take as little as a week. In an effort to aid economic growth in Indian Country, the legislation aims at simplifying tribal leasing. Specifically, the bill allows up to six Indian tribes or a consortia of tribes to participate in an Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project with Turkish private companies. Specifically, participating tribes would be allowed to lease land held in trust for them by the federal government without the Secretary of the Interior's approval if the lease: (1) furthers economic, community, or business development with a Turkish entity; (2) is entered into within 1 year of this Act's enactment; (3) is not for mineral exploration, development, or extraction; (4) does not include land held in trust for an individual Indian; (5) is executed under tribal regulations approved by the Secretary; and (6) has a term that does not exceed 25 years (but can be renewed for up to two terms). Furthermore, before the Secretary signs off on any tribal demonstration program, an adequate environmental review process will be required from the tribe.
During a hearing on the bill held in the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, a tribal witness explained that Turkey has a long track record of promoting good relations and trade between its private business community and Indian tribes in the United States. The intent of the bill is to further such relations to increase private business development in Indian Country where economic diversification is greatly needed.
During the full Committee markup of H.R. 2362, concerns and objections were raised by several Minority members because of the focus on Turkish companies. Much of the debate concerned the foreign policy of the United States and its relations with Turkey, a subject more appropriate for the Committee on Foreign Affairs to consider. The Natural Resources Committee, however, is primarily concerned with proposals to increase business opportunities on impoverished Indian reservation communities in the United States.
According to CBO, “implementing the bill would have no significant impact on the federal budget.”