Trump Expected to Sign Energy Bill, Removing Barriers for Tribes to Develop Energy Resources

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven announced Monday that the House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 245, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017. The Tribal Energy Bill, for short, cuts red tape and allows tribes to take care of their own energy resources, Hoeven says. Ultimately, the updated Act would promote energy development and drive economic growth.

“It streamlines the process for Tribes to enter into Tribal Energy Resource Agreements (TERAs) with the Department of the Interior (DOI),” said Hoeven. “TERAs facilitate more tribal control by authorizing tribal contracts, leases, and rights-of-ways for energy development without unnecessary, cumbersome federal bureaucracy. The bill will help level the playing field for Tribes so that they can participate, if they choose, in the booming energy market.”

S.245, among other things:

  • Directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) to provide Indian tribes with technical assistance in planning their energy resource development programs.
  • Expands the Department of Energy (DOE) Indian energy education planning and management assistance program.
  • Amends the Federal Power Act to require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to give Tribes, in addition to states and municipalities, preference for the receipt of preliminary hydroelectric licenses.
  • Creates at least four new biomass projects to be implemented for Tribes and Alaska Native corporations, in order to promote biomass energy production.

Congress entertained similar bills over the last eight years without successfully approving one. Chairman Hoeven introduced the bill on January 30, 2017. The Tribal Energy Bill passed the Senate on November 29, 2017, and the House on December 10, 2018.  “This bill was first introduced during the 112th Congress, and these improvements are long overdue. I look forward to the President signing this bill into law,” Hoeven said in a statement.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye released a statement applauding the House approval of the landmark bill. Since Hoeven introduced his version in early 2017, President Begaye and his administration worked to help move it forward by writing letters in support of the bill and testifying on Capitol Hill.

“For many years, we have watched as Congress has failed to pass this bill,” President Begaye said. “Navajo and other tribal nations have endured a long struggle to assume control over our own natural resources. Passage of this bill is monumental for Native people. It’s a game-changer for tribes.”

The bill authorizes the Navajo Nation to manage mineral leases for up to 75 years without waiting for the Interior Secretary to review them. It also directs the Government Accountability Office to submit a report to Congress on the process of carrying out the bill.

“I applaud Congress for advancing this bill,” President Begaye said. “History shows that the Interior Department has not always helped us in managing and leasing minerals in a way that provides the maximum opportunity or benefit to the Navajo people. I urge President Trump to sign this bill into law because we are looking to take full control over all our resources.”

Other tribal leaders weighed in as well:

“The Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation supports passage of this important bill. While we continue to expand our energy production and invest in our Reservation infrastructure, we look forward to working with Senator Hoeven to further tribal self-determination over development of our energy resources.” – Chairman Mark N. Fox, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation

“The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has long supported S.245 and is gratified that after years of effort, the bill passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support. For many tribes, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, energy development is a vital source of revenue. This legislation will make it easier for tribes to negotiate and enter into tribal energy resource agreements with the Secretary of the Interior, which, in turn, will strengthen tribal sovereignty and lead to more robust, prudent energy production on tribal lands. We thank Chairman Hoeven, Chairman Bishop and the many supporters of this important legislation and look forward to the President’s support for it as well. – Chairman Christine Sage, Southern Ute Indian Tribe

“The Colville Tribes is grateful to Chairman Hoeven and the Committee for securing passage of this long awaited legislation.  The Colville Tribes is particularly supportive of Section 202 of the bill, which will provide Tribes with a new tool to conduct forest health and biomass utilization activities on federal forest lands.  Three years ago, wildfires burned more than 250,000 acres of Colville Reservation in part because of under-managed conditions on neighboring federal forest land.  This new authority is a major step toward preventing this from happening to the Colville Tribes and other Tribes in the future.” – Chairman Rodney Cawston, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

“The passage of S. 245, in both the House and Senate, marks an important milestone toward Tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and the Crow Tribe appreciates Senator Hoeven’s leadership on this important legislation.  We look forward to implementing the provisions found within this bill to strengthen our economy, and improve the lives of our Tribal Members for generations to come.  Our Tribe understands that we will be the key to unlocking our economic potential and removing ourselves from the siren call of federal handouts – this legislation acknowledges that vision.  Thank you, Senator Hoeven, for your support of Tribal sovereignty and your work on this critical issue.” – Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid, Jr., Crow Tribe of Indians

“The Sac and Fox Nation has significant energy resources within its historical reservation boundaries, including the ‘Pipeline Capital of the World’ in Cushing, Oklahoma. The enactment of S. 245 will give tribes the assistance we need to assume mineral leasing responsibilities from the federal government through tribal energy resource agreements. Streamlining the lease approval processes will also make tribal lands more attractive to outside energy producers and investors, advancing the opportunities for tribal economic development. The Sac and Fox Nation is appreciative that Congress has recognized the need for improvements to the mineral leasing process in Indian country and is grateful that the bill’s sponsor—Senator Hoeven—and its cosponsors have taken the lead on addressing those needs.” – Principal Chief Kay Rhoads, Sac and Fox Nation

“The Gila River Indian Community applauds Congress and Senator Hoeven for passing legislation that enhances tribal decision-making over the development of its energy and natural resources. This legislation acknowledges that the trust relationship works best when federal processes are streamlined in ways that allow Tribes to determine the best use of their lands and resources so they can meet the needs of their communities.” – Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community

“Tribal energy resources have great potential to create jobs, offset rising energy costs, and provide sustainable, long-term economic growth. We appreciate Senator Hoeven’s tireless work to ensure the enactment of S. 245 during the 115th Congress. This legislation will promote tribal self-determination by eliminating obstacles and increasing flexibility for tribal nations when managing their energy resources.” – Lt. Governor Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians

“The Intertribal Timber Council supports this legislation because it will help protect Indian trust lands from threats of wildfire while promoting economic opportunities in Indian Country.” – Vernon Stearns, President of the Intertribal Timber Council