Field hearing scheduled on energy development in Indian Country

A drilling rig on the Navajo Nation. Photo byDooda Fracking

The House Committee on Natural Resources has scheduled a field hearing on tribes and energy development.

The hearing takes place next Tuesday, October 4, at the State Capitol Building in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It will focus on long-standing barriers to energy development in Indian Country.

"The hearing will focus on several themes, including: the beneficial impact of energy resource development on tribal economies; how tribes currently manage their energy resources; and obstacles such as federal regulations, delays, and lack of energy resource data and information that hinder the ability of tribes to realize the full potential their energy resources for the benefit of their members and the country," a committee notice reads.

The hearing comes during a break in the 114th Congress. Lawmakers are expected to leave Washington, D.C., at the end of this week and aren't scheduled to return until November 14, after the presidential election.

It also comes as the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs has all but gone missing in action as the clock ticks on the 114th Congress. Since the start of 2016, the panel has convened just six hearings on Indian issues.

In comparison, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs holds hearings and meetings just about every week when Congress is in session. Since the beginning of the year, the panel has advanced about two dozen bills, with several becoming law.

The House subcommittee's absence is all the more notable given the high-profile attention that tribes have garnered on energy, infrastructure and land policy issues in recent weeks. The #NoDAPL movement has been completely ignored by the Republican-controlled panel and leaders of the Ute Tribe have not been allowed to testify on a controversial bill that would transfer 100,000 acres of their reservation over their objections.

When Chairman Shaun Chapoose asked if he could appear at a hearing to outline the Ute Tribe's concerns, "I was told, outright, 'No,'" he said in an interview with Indianz.Com on Tuesday.

Instead, H.R.5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, was steered to an entirely different subcommittee that almost never deals with tribal issues. Ironically, the Ute Tribe has been a leader in energy development and the state wants the reservation lands to use for energy development.

Both subcommittees are overseen by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Just last week, he accused the Obama administration of "exploiting" tribes as three federal agencies announced formal consultation sessions on infrastructure projects.

"Meaningful consultation becomes meaningless when it’s selectively applied to advance a political agenda in the White House as they’ve once again pursued here," Bishop said in a press release.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Field Hearing on Tribal Prosperity and Self-Determination through Energy Development (October 4, 2016)

Government Accountability Office Report:
Indian Energy Development: Poor Management by BIA Has Hindered Energy Development on Indian Lands (June 2015)

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