The National Congress of American Indians members passed more than five dozen new resolutions at its annual meeting recently, but one of the first things the organization will deal with during the lame duck session – the period of time between Election Day and when the new legislators enter Congress in the new year – is a three-year-old resolution opposing the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
“As Congress opens the lame duck one of the first issues will be the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Brian Cladoosby, NCAI president and chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, told ICTMN following NCAI’s 71st Annual Convention & Market held this year in Atlanta. “NCAI has a resolution opposing Keystone as tribes in that region are concerned about the potential impact to their aquifer.”
NCAI members’ resolutions set the organization’s policies and guide its advocacy until the issue is resolved or the resolution is withdrawn. In the case of the pipeline, NCAI members passed its resolution in June 2011 opposing the $8 billion pipeline that would transport oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. The resolution cites the pipeline’s negative impacts on cultural and environmental resources and expresses solidarity with the First Nations in their struggle to protect their communities, aboriginal lands and treaty rights against the pipeline and other extraction industries’ devastation.
The Keystone issue flared up in 2012 but receded from the headlines until recently when House Republicans in their post-election victory mode suddenly brought it to the floor for a vote. On Friday, November 14, the House voted 252-161 to pass legislation that would force the $8 billion TransCanada pipeline project to move forward. The Senate rejected the bill on Tuesday, November 18. Fifty-nine senators voted for the bill, one short of the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster. Fourteen Democrats joined the Senate Republicans in voting for the bill. The vote was 59-41.
So with its Keystone and other older policies in place and more than 60 new resolutions pointing the way, NCAI is ready to deal with the new post-election political landscape – even if it’s a little obscure at the moment.
“NCAI is fully committed to strong and effective action to advance tribal priorities. First, we will be navigating the lame duck session of Congress, and then next year will be a new environment in Congress particularly with the new leadership in the Senate,” Cladoosby said. “It is too early to predict exactly how next year will go, but we are already identifying opportunities.”
In addition to the Keystone pipeline issue, appropriations and spending will loom large during the lame duck session. Congress has not yet finalized a spending plan, Cladoosby said. “We are strongly urging adoption of House Interior Appropriations, as it has higher spending levels for both Indian Health and education,” he said.
In July the House Committee on Appropriations voted 29-19 to approve the fiscal year 2015 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. The legislation includes funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service, the Indian Health Service, and various independent and related agencies. In total, the bill includes $30.2 billion in base funding, an increase of $162 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and a reduction of $409 million below the President’s request.
Indian country won a victory this year with the passage of the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2014, but here’s more work to be done in the area of tax reform. Tax extenders are up for renewal during the lame duck, Cladoosby noted. There are nearly 55 tax provisions, known as extenders, which expire at the end of this year, including important charitable giving incentives. Congress needs to renew the provisions in order for people, businesses and tribes to use them in filing taxes in 2015. “Tribes have some very important tax incentives for job development in Indian country that are up for renewal. That includes accelerated depreciation and the Indian employment tax credit,” Cladoosby said. “We really need to make these tax incentives permanent, and these discussions will be a springboard for tax reform discussions in the next year.” Cladoosby said NCAI will advocate for reforms to the tax code that will “respect tribal sovereignty and create jobs in tribal communities.
Energy legislation, trust reform and transportation reauthorization are also NCAI priorities. NCAI has been “strongly supporting” Sen. John Barrasso's (R-WY) tribal energy bill – the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Acts Amendments of 2014 (S. 2132). The bill will give Indian tribes more tools to develop their energy resources and to remove unnecessary barriers to economic development. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, of which Barrasso is vice chairman, passed the bill unanimously in May.
NCAI will continue to prioritize legislation for the elusive “Carcieri fix” to restore the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust, and will support voting rights initiatives, and the Department of the Interior Tribal Self Governance Act of 2014, Cladoosby said. It also backs reauthorization of The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA), which provides grants and financing guarantees to tribes for affordable housing. A couple key NCAI priorities, Cladoosby said – are a report just released from the Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence “that will drive attention and I believe there will be a need for hearings,” proposed new regulations for the right of way on Indian lands, trust land in Alaska, and federal recognition.
And in the very near future, there is President Obama’s sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference to look forward to on December 3 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. The conference will provide leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with the president and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.
“I think tribes will be working up even more ideas for administrative action as we head into the summit with the president in the first week of December,” Cladoosby said.