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  Tribes Push Obama, Cabinet Leaders on Development  
December 5, 2012  
By Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E Reporter  


President Obama and members of his Cabinet have vowed to maintain a nation-to-nation relationship with American Indian tribes, as many push for more control over oil and gas development on tribal land.

At the White House Tribal Nations conference yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar touted actions from his agency over the past four years that have allowed tribes to take advantage of energy potential on their land. Just two months ago, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation was successful in gaining approval from Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs for a "land into trust" application that allows the North Dakota tribe to move forward
on a refinery that will process oil from the Bakken Shale.

"It's the first of its kind run and owned by Native Americans," Salazar told a room of
hundreds of tribal leaders at Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C. "It was a very
historic moment."

During a 10-minute speech to the group, Obama said he wanted to push Congress to
pass legislation (S.B. 676) that would allow Interior to turn over more private land to tribes. He added that tribes -- and the government -- have an obligation "to protect our planet, to leave our children something better than we inherited," along with "expanding economic opportunity for Native Americans."

Tribes have long complained of the red tape required to permit energy projects on reservations, many of which are very poor. Interior last week finalized reforms that will help streamline the leasing of surface land that is held in trust by the government, but
subsurface rights needed for oil and gas drilling are governed separately by the agency's Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs and require a lengthy permitting process.

"Oil don't sleep, it don't wait," said MHA Nation Chairman Tex Hall after the event. "If permits are taking over a year, that lease could expire, and they're going to take that oil rig off the reservation."

Hall is a familiar face in Washington; he frequently testifies on Capitol Hill and meets with federal regulators to discuss broader issues affecting American Indian communities. He
said he is glad Interior paved the way for streamlined surface leasing, but that more reform
is needed, including increased federal staff in field offices that process drilling permits.

Hall is also leery of a proposed BLM rule that would govern hydraulic fracturing on public
and tribal lands and contends that BLM did not adequately consult with tribes before
drafting the rule.

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who also spoke at the summit, talked at length about the tribal consultation process and said her agency has made it a priority to meet with tribes early when crafting policies on resource extraction, climate change and protecting water resources.

"We're not going to skimp on doing it right and doing it every time we should," Jackson said.

The chairman and many other tribal leaders question whether the federal government has authority over drilling on trust lands, which are held by the government but controlled by tribes (EnergyWire, July 16). American Indian leaders have pushed Salazar to include an opt-out clause in the rule that would allow tribes to claim exemption from it, and Hall said legal challenges are likely if that doesn't happen.
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