Government

TULSA, Okla. – The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is seeking input from Indian Country regarding energy resource development through roundtable discussions with tribes nationwide and conducted a Sept. 25 session here at the Million Dollar Elm Casino’s Osage Event Center.

The committee is interested in creating legislation that will address Indian energy development and is requesting input from tribal members. A document titled “Indian Energy and Energy Efficiency Concept Paper” was released last month and is being used as a starting point in discussing energy concept ideas with Native people.

“We would like some feedback because there are stakeholders in this process,” said Justin Memmott, one of two attorneys for the committee leading the roundtables across the country. The roundtables held nationwide are beneficial because of the diversity in tribes and energy resources, he said.

The Osage Nation hosted one of the events while others have been held in Bismarck, N.D., Albuquerque, N.M., Palm Springs, Calif., and Denver. Issues raised at the Tulsa meeting touched on oil/ gas regulations, water use and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ involvement in energy matters.

According to the concept paper drafted by the committee, a potential idea to better handle energy issues affecting Natives would be to create an “Indian Energy Development One-Stop-Shop Demonstration Project” within the federal Department of the Interior in up to three regional or agency offices where there are high levels of energy development opportunities.

This project would ensure that tribes, individual tribal members, and the energy industry are provided “coherent and timely information on energy development and to ensure that lease, permit and royalty processing occurs in an efficient and timely manner.”

Washington, D.C.-based attorney Wilson Pipestem, Osage and Otoe-Missouria, attended the event. He said the “One-Stop-Shop” idea has benefits but questioned whether there is adequate staffing within the BIA to handle the project’s responsibilities.

Rollie Wilson, the second committee attorney leading the roundtable, acknowledged staffing and experience issues are ongoing in federal departments such as hiring Natives to work in the Department of Energy as well as having energy experts as BIA employees.

Wilson also raised another concern/ scenario stating that tribes may not be well informed about energy funding opportunities which include federal grants. If that happens and a tribe applying for funding does not have enough hard data to apply for funding, the application could be in trouble, he said.

The concept paper is based on a May 2008 committee hearing with testimony from the county’s tribal governments and organizations in which witnesses said newer laws regarding tribal energy development encourage the entities to be more active in developing their resources. These witnesses also said the newer laws “were slow in being implemented” and changes are needed “to overcome a century of bureaucratic federal policies” that create “uncertainty and an unlevel playing field for tribal energy development.”

The committee’s chairman is Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Vice Chairman is Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, and comprises 13 other senators including Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn. The committee’s Web site is at www.indian.senate.gov where a copy of the Indian Energy and Energy Efficiency Concept Paper can be obtained.

Written comments can be e-mailed to energy@indian.senate.gov with “Energy Concept Paper” in the subject line or via fax to (202) 228-2589.