"My bill, Native American Energy Act passes cmmte. Empowers tribes & AK Natives to better develop&manage their lands," Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) wrote on Twitter of H.R.210. Photo: Rep. Don Young
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House committee approves Native American Energy Act in near party-line split

A controversial Indian energy bill is once again sparking partisan tensions on Capitol Hill.

In a near party-line vote, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R.210, the Native American Energy Act, at a markup session on Wednesday. The roll call was 25 to 15, with only one Democrat joining 24 Republicans in supporting the measure.

"This bill was written by the Natives themselves," asserted Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the sole sponsor of H.R.210.

The lopsided vote came after the top Democrat on the committee said the bill curtails the voices of tribal citizens and the public by limiting their ability to comment on tribal developments. Although the provision at issue was changed to expand who can provide input on such projects, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) still said he couldn't support it.

"We can have successful energy development in Indian Country while still retaining the environmental protections that will ensure future generations of Native Americans will be able to enjoy the benefits of that economic development," Grijalva said. He also objected to a provision aimed at discouraging litigation against energy projects on tribal lands.

The comments drew a typically fiery response from Young. He accused Democrats of failing to respect tribal self-determination and sovereignty.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Committee on Natural Resources Markup on H.R.210

"I am sick and tired of the other side patting them on the head -- my American Natives -- and saying, 'Oh we support you,' and handing them a blanket and half a side of beef," said Young.

"You want to keep them down. You don't want them to have their own way to fund their own careers, their own lives, their own reservations," Young added.

Young's bill can now be considered on the floor of the House, where a prior version was so controversial that it drew a veto threat from then-president Barack Obama. The same is not likely with President Donald Trump in office.

"All you want is the freedom to use them, and that’s been the problem. Trump said at the White House in June, during his first public event that featured tribal leaders. "It will be a lot easier now under the Trump administration."

Over in the Senate, key members are instead taking a more bipartisan approach to Indian energy with S.245, the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments. The bill cleared the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in February by unanimous agreement.

The approach in in the Senate is also more measured. S.245 bill does not contain the same controversial provisions as H.R.210.

Young's bill was originally scheduled for a markup in early September but timing issues prevented it from being considered at the time.

Major provisions aim to streamline federal reviews of tribal projects. Young noted that it takes federal agencies much longer to approve leases, rights-of-way and other agreements in Indian Country than in neighboring territories.

The delays cause tribes to miss out on economic opportunities, according to a 2015 report from the Governmental Accountability Office. Losses have run into the tens of millions of dollars, the GAO said in the report.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notices:
Full Committee Markup [PM Session] (October 3, 2017)
Full Committee Markup [AM Session] (October 4, 2017)

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

Related Stories:
Republicans revive Indian energy measure with a more friendly president in office (September 11, 2017)
Interior Department tries to streamline lengthy environmental review process (September 8, 2017)
President Trump promises 'freedom' for tribes seeking to exploit their resources (June 29, 2017)