Democratic News

While we calmly await a return to action on the energy bill, Dem staffers are putting the final polish on amendments that will improve S. 14 by adding what is missing (climate change, an RPS, etc.) or fixing what needs to be fixed (electricity title, hydro relicensing, Indian Energy, etc.). A good example of this fine-tuning is an amendment which corrects environmental and tribal trust language in the Indian Energy Title. The defective part of this otherwise favorable title is Section 2604 – a provision that authorizes Indian tribes to enter into leases or agreements and issue rights- of-way, for energy projects without the separate approval of the Secretary of the Interior. Section 2604 cuts out the public and environmental analyses for certain projects while also watering down the normal trust protections afforded to Indian tribes by the federal government. Currently, the Secretary of the Interior, as trustee for Indian tribes, must approve of an energy project on Indian land. This approval is typically a “major federal action” subject to environmental review under NEPA. S. 14 would permit tribes to open their lands to oil and gas drilling, coal mining, pipeline and transmission lines, power plants and all manner of energy projects without the Secretary's approval of individual projects and without ensuring a rigorous and public environmental review that protects the interests of those both on and off tribal lands. Furthermore, the provision waives federal liability for any harm to a tribe resulting from a project approved under this authority, while not including any protections and duties for tribes. Thus, in a stroke, Section 2604 eliminates comprehensive environmental reviews ... eliminates meaningful public participation ... and eliminates the Secretary's trust responsibility with respect to energy projects on Indian lands. In our view, this is abdication of trust responsibility disguised as energy policy, it sets a bad precedent, and it is consequential part of the energy bill that Dem staffers are trying to work out with our Republican colleagues.