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Rights of way draft report spells trouble

WASHINGTON – A draft report on tribal rights of way, commissioned by Congress from the departments of Energy and the Interior, has been referred to the White House by the departments, according to Paul Moorehead, representing the Council of Energy Resource Tribes for the lobbying firm Gardner Carton & Douglas.

“From what we understand is in the draft report,” Moorehead said, “the administration is setting out an ‘array of options’ for Congress that is said to include condemnation authority over tribal lands with a third party, presumably the Interior secretary, setting ‘fair’ compensation rates for tribes. The tribes see this proposal as not only unsupported by the factual record but obviously a blow to tribal authority and fundamental aspects of sovereignty. Indian tribes will justifiably react very negatively to any report that contains this kind of ‘option.’

“The ironic part of this is that the Indian Energy Development and Self-Determination Act that was included in the Energy Policy Act, signed by President Bush last August [of 2005], authorizes Indian tribes to enter land leases for energy development, or business agreements for energy development, or energy rights of way agreements without the approval of the secretary of Interior. And here we are a year later with the threat of not only federal intervention in rights of way negotiations between tribes and their energy partners, but literally federal determinations of how and under what circumstances tribal lands will be used and disposed of, and at what price.

“I don’t think this is what President Nixon had in mind when he argued for the Indian Self-Determination policy. What we’re facing with this sort of policy is more Andrew Jackson than it is Richard Nixon.”