Government

Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray joined three other tribal leaders on Oct. 22 in testifying to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on energy matters affecting Native America.

The committee, led by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is taking public comment on energy-related topics which will be used to help write legislation addressing current barriers and obstacles Native people face in having natural resource operations on Indian land such as oil, natural gas and renewable energy sources.

“What is threatening development?” is a common theme pertaining to energy operations on Indian lands, Dorgan said during the meeting in Washington, D.C., televised via the Internet. He said the hearing is being used for gathering feedback on issues facing Indian energy development

The committee has also released a document titled, “Indian Energy and Energy Efficiency Concept Paper,” which outlines several topics and suggestions for future legislation such as a “One-Stop-Shop” federal office to keep tribes, its members and energy companies informed on topics and also to process leases, permits and royalties, “in an efficient and timely manner.”

Gray invited the committee to visit the Osage Agency which has similar operations. He also suggested that worker incentives may work to retain employees handing energy matters to address staffing concerns.

“We do need a consorted effort to retain people,” Gray said. He used Indian Health Service as an example because the agency uses incentives such as helping workers pay off their higher education debt.

Other topics in the energy concept paper include suggesting that a $4,000 application processing fee be waived for oil and gas drilling on Indian lands. The 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act authorizes the Bureau of Land Management to collect the charge on all federal lands, but a suggested solution would only exempt Indian lands.

“In North Dakota (as an example), one could quickly get (an oil/ gas) drilling permit, but that is not the case if you want to drill on an Indian reservation,” Dorgan said.

Gray, who is also chairman of the Indian Country Renewable Energy Consortium’s board of directors, joined three other tribal leaders in testifying to the committee. Those leaders were: Marcus Levings, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota; Steve Herrera, a councilman from the Southern Ute Tribe in Colorado; and Ralph Sampson, chairman of theYakama Nation in Washington State.

Levings said federal offices, in rural regions such as his, are impacted by staffing shortages. At one time, the Aberdeen (S.D.) Area Office had only one staff member handling oil and gas matters, he said.

“We need three others with oil and gas backgrounds,” he said. “The problem is our elders are passing away before their cases, estate business is settled.”

Dorgan said he is asking Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to “work with this committee to solve these problems otherwise this will go on forever.”