CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 356, the Hill Creek Cultural Preservation and Energy Development Act, under a suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on January 23, 2013 by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which held a mark up and reported the bill by unanimous consent.
H.R. 356 authorizes an acre-for-acre transfer of land between the federal government and the State of Utah within an area known as the Hill Creek Extension of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation of the Ute Tribe of Utah. In particular, H.R. 356 authorizes the State of Utah to exchange its own subsurface rights in the southern part of the Hill Creek Extension in exchange for BLM administered land in the northern part.
In order to ensure that neither the State nor the federal government is financially harmed by the exchange, H.R. 356 specifies that both governments will retain an overriding mineral interest in the lands they are conveying to the other.
According to the Committee on Natural Resources, Congress created the ‘Hill Creek Extension’ to the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in 1948, adding 510,000 acres to the Reservation while retaining subsurface rights to the federal government. The State of Utah also retained the land it had previously acquired as well. In 1955, Congress authorized Utah to transfer its lands to the Tribe in exchange for subsurface rights elsewhere, which Utah subsequently did. The lands the State holds, however, are located in a remote southern area of the Reservation that is culturally and environmentally sensitive. The federal government’s lands, on the other hand, are in the developed northern region, an area in which the Tribe does not object to oil and gas leasing.
In 2006, Utah applied to BLM to exchange 18,000 of subsurface rights in the southern portion in return for an equal amount in the northern portion. BLM refused the application, claiming that current law did not allow the State to seek lands in the northern portion.
In order to resolve the dispute, H.R. 356 specifically authorizes Utah to convey its subsurface lands to the federal government, to be held in trust for the Tribe, in exchange for the northern subsurface lands currently owned by the federal government. This will benefit both Utah and the Tribe. Utah will be able to begin oil and gas development, creating additional sources of funding for schools, and the Tribe will be able to consolidate split estates in culturally and environmentally sensitive areas.
The House passed similar legislation (H.R. 4027) in the 112th Congress on June 18, 2012 by voice vote.
CBO estimates that H.R. 356 “would have no significant cost to the federal government.”