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Washington in brief, Anderson hold lifted

Anderson hold lifted

WASHINGTON - The anonymous hold that had been placed on a Senate vote that would confirm Dave Anderson as head of the BIA has been lifted, according to an Associated Press report.

Anderson's confirmation is expected by unanimous consent of the Senate, following a 13-0 vote of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that referred his candidacy to the full Senate.

The hold, anonymous by Senate protocol, could not be confirmed initially with the offices of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., SCIA member Tim Johnson, D-S.D., or the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs itself. Eventually, the committee did confirm the hold, but could not determine who placed it.

Now it turns out, AP reports, that the hold was an "administrative hold" placed by an anonymous SCIA panel seeking more information on Anderson. A spokesman for the committee had earlier denied that the hold originated there. The committee did not return a voice-message requesting clarification.

Historically, Senate holds have functioned as placeholders that enable senators to satisfy themselves on certain points, or straighten out certain misunderstandings or smooth over small points of pique, while avoiding negative votes and bad publicity for the interruption of a public process, and saving face all at the same time. But the source of the Anderson hold remains unknown.

Cobell plaintiffs ask quick hearing on appeal

WASHINGTON - The class action plaintiffs in the lawsuit over Indian trust funds management have asked the court for expedited consideration of an appeal the Interior Department has filed for relief from the ruling against it.

The ruling would precipitate a historical accounting of the Individual Indian Money trust. But Congress, fearing legal costs and liabilities as the federal trustee (Interior is its delegate agency), two weeks ago passed what amounts to a one-year moratorium on the court-ordered accounting. Interior cited the congressional amendment in appealing for relief from the court's order.

Plaintiff attorneys in the case known as Cobell (after lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell) argued in a Nov. 13 filing that delay damages the interests of Indian beneficiaries. In essence, they hope for a quick hearing and speedy rejection of Interior's appeal.

The Nov. 13 filing virtually guarantees what many observers expect - that the plaintiffs will take legal steps against the congressional amendment. The document terms the amendment a "conspicuously unconstitutional" attempt by Congress to interpret law for the judiciary. If so, it would violate the U.S. Constitution's separation of powers clause - source of the famous "checks and balances" between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Keith Harper, a Native American Rights Fund attorney for the plaintiffs, was attending the National Congress of American Indians conference in Albuquerque and did not return a request for comments by press time.

Compromise energy legislation emerges

WASHINGTON - The national energy bill emerged Nov. 15 from a long conference committee and moved toward the Senate floor, where it will face either a final vote or a Democratic filibuster.

The bill preserves Native-specific provisions (now found under Title V rather than Title III as in the pre-conference version). These provisions, among a multitude of others, would establish an office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and streamline the energy development approval process for tribes that choose the so-called "streamlined procedures."

The bill does not address the ban on oil and gas exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, despite the strong urging of President George W. Bush to open the refuge.

But it cancels a Senate-approved plan to incentivize renewable fuels production, including wind power production, a fledgling industry in the U.S. where tribes have made modest gains in recent years. Robert Gough of Intertribal Coup (short for Council on Utility Policy) in Rosebud, S.D., has been instrumental in bringing wind power to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. "I am extremely, extremely disappointed that there is no renewables portfolio," he said. "This is a bill that is weighted toward the conventional fuels industry ? toward the fuels of the past."

In their first chance to amend a bill that has been in Republican hands for months, however, Democrats on the conference committee restored language that would mandate federal spending on renewable energy, primarily wind and solar power. But Republicans led by Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the language would be stripped out of the bill before it comes to a final vote, according to the Washington Post.

In an apparent move to win support from senators in the Midwest, the bill's most prominent departure from fossil-fuel production is a bid to expand the use of ethanol, a corn byproduct. Nuclear production is also touted in the bill.

Though Sen. Tom Daschle, Senate Minority Leader, a Democrat from the Midwest by way of South Dakota, had yet to be heard from Nov. 18 as his staff cased the lengthy conference report, prominent Democrats riddled it with broadsides or dissociated themselves from it as a Republican document, "take it or leave it" in the words of Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., probably the reigning elder statesman in the Senate, told the New York Times it would "do about as much to improve the nation's energy security as the administration's invasion of Iraq has done to stem the tide of global terrorism."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described it as "leave no lobbyist behind" legislation, filled with "pork" awards for Bush loyalists in the energy industry.

Other concerns with the bill include its repeal of a consumer-protective utilities act from 1935. By opening local utilities to outside investment, theory has it, the bill would promote competition and eventually lower the household cost of electricity. But in the unformed markets of Indian country, if competition were not to take shape, household electricity prices could be higher as a result of the bill.

As of press time, Democrats weren't saying whether they would filibuster the bill or not. Republicans are confident they can pass the bill on a simple majority vote. But Senate rules permit filibusters, a parliamentary debating tactic that can prevent a bill from coming to the floor for a vote. It takes a super-majority of 60 votes to break a filibuster.

McCain is reportedly willing to join a Democratic filibuster. But by Nov. 20, Daschle had announced that he may vote to head off a filibuster.

The text of the bill in its several versions can be found on the Internet at http://energy.senate.gov/legislation/energybill2003/energybill2003.cfm.