Tester works with tribes to increase energy development, uphold trust responsibility

(U.S. Senate)-Vice Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Jon Tester expressed frustration over the federal government’s failure to uphold its trust responsibility and assist tribes who are pushing to increase energy development on tribal lands.

During an Indian Affairs hearing Tester pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that identifies multiple factors that have hindered tribes’ ability to develop natural resources. These include a lengthy review process, inconsistencies within the Interior Department, and a lack of geographic mapping information in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ land records system.

“The decision to develop resources and create good jobs should be in the hands of the tribes, not government bureaucrats,” Tester said. “The federal government must uphold its trust responsibility to Indian Country and provide tribes the tools they need to responsibly develop their natural resources.”

Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes Councilman Grant Stafne testified at the hearing.

“Despite our best efforts over the past decades to develop our natural resources in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, the difficulty of tapping these reserves, along with the challenges of dealing with multiple jurisdictions, have made it difficult for our Tribal government to make a significant dent in the unemployment and poverty that still plague our Reservation,” Stafne said. “We can and must do better, but this will only happen if our Federal trustee works with us to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

In addition to oil and gas development, many tribes are exploring renewable energy development. According to the Department of Energy, in the lower 48 states, tribal lands contain potential to produce 1.1 billion megawatt hours of wind energy and 9 billion megawatt hours of solar energy.

Tester is cosponsoring the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act that will address many of the issues highlighted in the GAO report that have inhibited tribes’ ability to develop natural resources.

Tester is also sponsoring legislation to permanently extend the Indian Coal.