Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing on S. 2132, to amend the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2005

Senate Indian Affairs Committee debates tribal energy measure

The Obama administration urged Congress to trust tribes with energy development at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, acknowledged that it's taken a long time for the federal government to embrace self-determination. But he said the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act (HEARTH) Act has proven successful for housing and economic development.

So Washburn suggested Congress go the same route with energy development. "We've learned that we should trust tribes," the BIA leader told the committee.

The HEARTH Act recognizes that tribes have already developed own leasing laws and regulations. Once they are approved by the BIA, the agency doesn't have to review every single lease for every single project.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created a similar program with respect to energy. Tribes can submit a tribal energy resource agreement, or TERA, to the BIA for approval.

Since the HEARTH Act became law in 2012, the BIA has approved regulations for 12 tribes. In contrast, not a single TERA has been submitted to the BIA since 2005.

"We don't have a single TERA that's been signed and that means something has gone wrong," Washburn testified.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the vice chairman of the committee, is hoping to change that with S.2132, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2014. The bill revises the TERA program to encourage more participation.

"The legislation would streamline the approval process for tribal energy resource agreements on Indian lands," Barrasso said at the hearing. “This bill would provide clear deadlines and requirements for approvals or disapprovals of a tribal application for the agreements."

Barrasso introduced a similar version of the bill in the 112th Congress but it never passed the Senate. The HEARTH Act, on the other hand, became law during the same session with the backing of the Obama administration.

Applying the HEARTH Act framework to Barrasso's bill as Washburn suggested could help its chances in the 113th Congress. So far. the bill has no Democratic sponsors although Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the chairman of the committee, agreed that the TERA process needs to be improved.

Tribal leaders also told the committee that the TERA process should be simplified and streamlined. They also urged Congress to impose timelines on the BIA.

"The tragic consequence of no approved TERAs and a continued reliance upon federal supervision has been the incredible lost opportunities to develop Indian energy resources during the period between 2005 and today," James "Mike" Olguin, the acting chairman of the Southern Ute Tribe of Colorado, said at the hearing.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing, to receive testimony on the following bill: S. 2132, to amend the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2005, and for other purposes. (April 30, 2014)

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