Senators urge House to pass bill spurring tribal projects

by Dylan Brown

Sens. John Barrasso and Jon Tester are optimistic the bipartisanship that carried their bill streamlining energy projects on Native American lands through the Senate will also spur swift passage in the House.

Wyoming’s Barrasso (R), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Montana’s Tester, the ranking Democrat, shepherded S. 209 through their panel and the Senate, which passed it Thursday by unanimous consent.

“Many House Members support tribal self-determination, and reducing and bringing clarity to bureaucratic red tape,” committee spokesman Mike Danylak said. “We share these goals, and this bill is a significant step in advancing these goals.”

While the bill was not controversial, a substitute amendment tweaked the legislation at the recommendation of tribes, the Interior Department and the Government Accountability Office.

The focus remains on reforming tribal energy resource agreements (TERAs), a process no tribe has used since its inception in 2008.

At the request of Barrasso, GAO took the Bureau of Indian Affairs to task for stifling tribal energy development, which lags behind that on public and private lands next door to reservations (Greenwire, June 16).

“This bill helps tribes by streamlining Washington’s slow approval process and cutting red tape,” said Barrasso, who has fought for similar legislation since 2011. “It will help create good-paying jobs across Indian Country while increasing our nation’s energy security.”

Under the updated S. 209, Indian Affairs no longer has to determine whether a tribe can regulate its own energy development, leaving it up to tribes that certify in a TERA they have similar management experience.

“Tribes should be in control of their energy resources,” Tester said in a statement.

Tribal energy projects with a significant environmental impact would be subject to public comments to which the tribe must respond.

Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, who is leaving the agency next month, has backed the changes mirroring similar provisions in the HEARTH Act, a 2012 law that reformed tribal business and taxation rules.

The altered legislation would require Interior to notify a tribe submitting a TERA whether its application is complete within 60 days.

It also ensures that tribes are not just the majority stakeholder but have jurisdiction and authority over tribal energy development organizations, collaborations with investors and other entities.

Barrasso’s bill also establishes a program for five biomass demonstration projects, including one in Alaska.

Sending his own tribal energy bill to the House, Barrasso has not yet taken up H.R. 538, which House Democrats blasted and the White House threatened to veto for reducing environmental protections.

“We have several bills that we will be looking at in the next session,” Danylak said. “Tribes are welcomed to share their views on this bill with the committee.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he looks forward to passing comprehensive tribal energy reform.

“I am pleased the Senate has followed suit and acted on legislation to alleviate barriers that currently prevent Native Americans from harnessing resources on their own land,” Bishop said in a statement. “This bill, like the House’s ‘Native American Energy Act,’ will correct injustices done to tribal energy potential.”