• Obama Allows Indians To Grow Pot, But Not Drill For Oil On Their Own Land

    The Obama administration isn’t allowing Native American tribes to develop energy resources on their lands, according to a prominent Republican, all while arguing it is setting aside the lands so historically-impoverished tribes can grow pot.

    It’s the height of hypocrisy, according to Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, who laid into the White House for opposing a bill that would give tribes more control over developing oil and gas on their own lands.

    “For purposes of mineral development, the Administration treats Indian trust lands as public land,” the committee said in a legislative report from earlier this month. “But for purposes of the cultivation and commercial sale of marijuana… the Obama Administration has determined to use its discretion not to enforce such laws on Indian lands on the grounds that such lands are uniquely under the sovereign control of their tribal owners.”

    Tribal lands are supposed to be considered sovereign, but energy development and other issues are often regulated by the federal government. Mismanagement by the Bureau of Indian Affairs has caused tribes to miss out on tens of millions of dollars in energy development opportunities — including fossil fuels or green energy.

    Now, tribal leaders are worried the Department of the Interior’s new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands will only make things worse. Under the fracking regulations, which are now being held up by the courts, the Interior Department would hold Indian lands in “trust” as public lands.

    But these “trust” lands won’t be made available for oil and gas drilling, they’re holding it for tribes to grow marijuana. In effect, tribes are being kept from drilling for oil and gas, but encouraged to grow pot. This has angered Republicans and tribal leaders.

    “On the surface, it would appear the Administration believes the production and sale of illegal drugs presents a better long-term economic model for Indian tribes to follow than mineral extraction,” reads the committee’s report. “Aside from the question whether this is sound federal Indian policy, the Administration’s view regarding the status of Indian lands – not ‘sovereign’ for energy development but ‘sovereign’ for marijuana production – is inconsistent.

    “The White House’s opposition will not erase the black mark against Interior for its neglect of Indian Country,” Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement on Obama’s veto threat. “Native Americans are being denied opportunities due to the federal government’s incompetence.

    “With tribes rich in resources but suffering unemployment rates of 50 percent, the Administration’s call for reform rings hollow. This statement reaffirms that President Obama, Secretary Jewell, and Kevin Washburn are fine with the status quo. I am not,” Bishop said.

    In July, Mike Olguin of the Southern Ute Tribe testified before Congress that Interior’s fracking rule would chase away oil and gas companies interested in drilling on tribal lands. Some tribes, like the Utes, are heavily reliant on oil and gas revenues, so they are wary of more federal rules.

    “The burden of federal regulation results in lost revenue to our tribe, as well as potential drainage of tribal minerals,” Olguin said, adding that his tribe tried to preempt Interior by passing their own fracking regulation.

    “The Southern Ute regulation ensures prudent, environmentally sound practices in a much more reasonable and efficient manner than [Interior’s] rule,” Olguin added.

    Republicans have introduced the “Native American Energy Act” which aims to prevent the Obama administration from exerting too much control over Indian lands. The bill recently came before the House Committee on Rules, which means it could soon be on the floor for a vote.

    The White House was quick to issue a veto threat.

    “The bill would undermine public participation and transparency of review of projects on Indian lands” and “set unrealistic deadlines and remove oversight for appraisals of Indian lands or trust assets, and prohibit awards under the Equal Access to Justice Act or payment of fees or expenses to a plaintiff from the Judgment Fund in energy-related actions,” the White House said in its veto threat.

    “The bill also stipulates that Indian lands are exempt from the Department of the Interior’s hydraulic fracturing rule,” the White House added. That rule already contains a provision allowing for variances from the rule’s requirements when Tribal laws meet or exceed the rule’s standards.”

    The White House echoed arguments brought forward by environmental groups who also want more federal control over tribal lands.

    “While we are not opposed to the development of energy projects on tribal lands under the law, this bill goes far beyond that by severely limiting public involvement in the development of any major project on tribal lands, as well as by insulating potentially environmentally devastating energy projects on tribal lands… from judicial review,” a group of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, wrote in a very unpublicized letter to Congress.

    “It further erodes the public interest by diminishing its full authority to conduct appraisals, especially in the context of land exchanges between the federal government and an Alaska Native Corporation,” the environmentalists wrote.

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