Blumenthal blasts BIA's 'new rules'

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HARTFORD, Conn. - State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal continued his
battle against the BIA May 9, accusing the federal agency of unlawfully
issuing new rules that make it easier for tribes to annex trust land for
gaming.

Blumenthal's allegations were embedded in eight pages of testimony
submitted to a May 11 Senate Indian Affairs Committee oversight hearing on
federal recognition called by Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The attorney general said a checklist issued recently by the BIA's Office
of Indian Gaming changes the rules for land acquisitions by eliminating the
need for a governor's consent, and limits the rights of local communities
to have input in the process.

"In adopting these rules, the BIA once again demonstrated that it is
lawless, capricious and out of control by failing to allow the public input
and comment required by law. This 'checklist' is further and compelling
evidence of the need for full and far-reaching reform of the BIA,"
Blumenthal said.

George Skibini, the Office of Indian Gaming director who issued the
checklist in March, said Blumenthal's allegations were incomprehensible.

"We can't eliminate the governor's consent. It's a requirement of the
statute. We certainly did not do that at all. I don't know where he's
getting that. I just can't understand how he can understand that from
reading the checklist," Skibini said.

The checklist is a guideline instructing regional directors in implementing
the rules that already exist, Skibini said.

"We cannot modify the rules with this. That would be illegal and we're not
doing that," Skibini said.

The 12-page, decade-old checklist was revised in 1997 and 2000. The latest
revision includes three modifications "that actually suggest stricter
requirements for gaming acquisitions," Skibini said.

The new guidelines expand consultation with local officials from those with
jurisdiction over the parcel or contiguous parcels to officials in a
10-mile radius of the proposed acquisition.

"I felt that was inadequate and that's why we put in this flexible 10-mile
rule, sort of as a reasonable approach of what the surrounding community
is. We said it's flexible, meaning we leave it to the region to determine
whether it should be bigger than that," Skibini said.

The checklist also recommended an environmental impact statement (EIS),
which carries a higher standard than the environmental assessment reports
previously submitted. The change follows several lawsuits against the BIA
based on inadequate compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

"We won a couple, but it delays the process so much, we felt it may in the
best interest of the tribes to do the EIS right away. The courts give
greater deference to the government's position if an EIS is done rather
than an EA," Skibini said.

The third change requires regional directors to include in their
recommendations agreements between tribes and local governments regarding
tax impacts to the local community, jurisdictional issues such as law
enforcement and emergency services, and land use issues.

"These are issues that give us concerns. We want to encourage the tribes to
enter into local agreements that essentially will relieve and address any
impacts based on conflicts of land use, jurisdictional problems, and the
impact on the tax base," Skibini said.

Told of Skibini's comments, Blumenthal said the checklist modifications go
beyond guidance.

"They are rules. He can call them whatever he wants, but they are rules. We
contend they should be regulations with formal comments promulgated
officially and properly. My testimony speaks for itself," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal has led the state in its opposition to the expansion of Indian
casinos beyond the existing Foxwoods Casino and Mohegan Sun. He has
appealed the BIA's federal recognition of the Eastern Pequots and
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, tribes that hope to open casinos.

His testimony urges the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to impose an
immediate moratorium on tribal acknowledgement decisions and appeals;
abolish the BIA's tribal recognition authority; create a "Federal Tribal
Recognition Commission" with "strong disclosure and ethics rules"; enact
the seven criteria for recognition into statute; and fund municipalities
and "groups" to hire archeologists, genealogists, historians and other
experts "necessary to participate meaningfully in the recognition process."