“It’s going to make it easier for the tribe to conduct its own business,get the federal bureaucracy out of the way,” James M. Olguin,vice-chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council,said. The council is based in Ingacio,Colo.
The federal government regulates exploration through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Interior. It takes the department about four months to approve transactions for a tribe’s land or trust assets. The legislation would impose a 30-day-limit.
The House Natural Resources subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native American Affairs heard testimony about the Native American Energy Act.
It would create at least five Indian Development Offices to gather federal agencies’ services to speed project approvals.
The bill would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from collecting fees for applications to drill,inspections and leases that do not produce oil or gas. It would also reduce the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ influence on lease approvals.
Irene Cuch chairwoman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee from Fort Duchesne,Utah, said companies that explore for oil and gas on tribal land say the Department of Interior permitting process is “the single biggest risk factor in their operations.”
She said about 48 Applications for Permits to Drill are approved each year for operations in the reservation. Cuch estimated that 450 applications would be needed each year as the tribes expand their operations.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján,D-N.M.,raised concerns about the tribes’ abilities to use the permitting process to prevent natural disasters.
Fred Fox,administrator of the MHA Nation Tribal Energy Development,said the tribes would have the ability to do that. The bill,however,is not enough for his Newtown,N.D.,tribes. The group,also called the Three Affiliated Tribes,represents the Mandan,Hidatsa and Arikara Indians
“It would be good to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs out of the way. But,without tax revenues that other governments rely on,tribal governments will never have the staff and resources to run permit programs,” Fox said.
Since 2008,his tribe had 352 permits approved and 337 are pending. He complained that North Dakota collects taxes from tribal oil and gas operations but does not spend enough state money in Indian land.
“We need Congress to affirm the exclusive authority of tribes raise tax revenues on the reservation so that we can rely on the same revenues that state governments use to maintain infrastructure and support economic activity,” Fox said.
Rep. Paul A. Gosar,R-Ariz.,acting chairmen of the committee,said the committee would take Luján’s concerns into account to amend the bill to “make sure we don’t create another monster.”
A spokeswoman for the BIA declined to talk about the legislation.
Reach reporter Robin Siteneski at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.