President Obama’s heavy-handed energy regulations and Big Green’s egregious legal delays have crippled the ability of tribal leaders to create jobs and stifled their development of Native American resources.
Alaska’s Republican Rep. Don Young, long a friend of tribal leaders and Alaska Native officers, recently introduced the Native American Energy Act, a proposal to reduce government barriers and streamline burdensome procedures, particularly approvals from Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Six representatives from various tribes testified last week at the bill’s hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
The subcommittee claimed in a news release that the bill, H.R. 3973, “promotes and encourages increased energy production on tribal lands by reducing government barriers and streamlining burdensome procedures.”
With estimates that up to 10 percent of the nation’s untapped energy resources lie under or on tribal lands, this unheralded hearing is not insignificant.
Mike Olguin, vice chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council, set the theme: “We are the best protectors of our own resources and the best stewards of our own destiny, provided that we have the tools to use what is ours.”
Subcommittee chairman Young was more blunt. “For too long, the federal government has stood in the way of Native Americans looking to develop their lands for energy production. … This is a win-win piece of legislation that will give Indian tribes and Alaska Natives exactly what they are seeking — more control over their lands in order to be more self-sufficient.”
Specifically, one provision must come as a shock for Big Green’s most relentlessly litigious groups: “Sec. 8. Bonding requirement and nonpayment of attorneys’ fee to promote Indian energy projects.”
Translated out of legalese, If you file a lawsuit against an Indian energy project, you have to post a surety bond and you don’t get attorneys’ fees, win or lose.
The bonding requirement and ban on attorneys’ fees did not inspire gloating among the witnesses, but reserved and thoughtful responses.
Tara Sweeney, senior vice president of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, thanked the committee “for recognizing administrative and legal challenges, brought by third parties whose sole mission is to prevent further development in Alaska.”
Other sections of the bill are sure to cause Obama bureaucrats to fume. As Cronkite News reported, tribes would be able to conduct their own reviews of energy development agreements, now done by the Interior Department.
If the review is not forthcoming in 30 days, it would be automatically approved.
Wilson Groen, president and chief executive officer of Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, said the Navajo Nation fully supports this reform, calling current procedures “costly and inflexible,” taking about a year and a half to get a drilling permit on Navajo Nation lands.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said the bill is needed to help reduce the “staggering rate of poverty and unemployment on the reservation today.”
This would have been a fairly typical hearing on an important bill were it not for the unexpected lack of opposition.
Ranking committee member, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., invited no Big Green activists to testify against the bill. Salazar’s Interior Department sent no representative to the hearing. Many lawmakers were astonished, and some were critical.
The main take on this silence: It’s an election tactic. Democrats are worried that President Obama looks like he’s choosing greens over Indians.
After Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL’s oil pipeline construction, engineered by Big Green’s wealthy foundation funders, that could be a good bet.
More than Native American sovereignty may lie in the Native American Energy Act.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.