Native Americans buck Biden's climate agenda, demand right to develop fossil fuels on their lands

"A war on coal is a war on Crow," Stewart said, criticizing the Biden administration's energy policies.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
Leaders of Native American tribes across the country are calling for the Biden administration to allow for their tribes to continue with fossil duel production on their lands.

According to Fox News, both tribal leaders and energy experts have criticized the administration’s efforts to restrict energy production, with the Department of the Interior simultaneously pursuing climate policies limiting fossil fuel production on federal lands and waters, while expressing support for tribal sovereignty.

Last year, the Biden administration let the Department of Energy National Coal Council charter lapse, and the administration has also pursued emissions standards and restrictions that target the coal industry which many tribes are dependent on.

In addition, the Department of the Interior is expected to finalize a 20-year ban on oil and gas leasing near the Chaco Canyon Historical site, which lies on Navajo land in northwestern New Mexico.

President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez as well as the Navajo Nation Council have opposed this proposed rule.

According to the Navajo Nation, there are currently 53 Indian allotments in the zone that would be impacted by this ban. These allotments generate nearly $6.2 million per year in royalties for an estimated 5,462 allotments.

Additionally, there are 418 unleased allotments in this zone that are associated with more than 16,000 allottees.

Earlier this year, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation (KIC), which was founded to serve the Inupiat people, joined a lawsuit that challenged the Biden administration’s leasing pause on oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"We can’t allow the federal government to arbitrarily shut down good-paying jobs for Alaska Native families and cut off revenue streams for local and state governments," AIDEA Board Chair Dana Pruhs said in March.

Speaking with Fox News, DOI spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said that the administration supports tribes in the "exercise of their sovereign powers" to manage their lands.

"Tribes should have the ability to determine whether, when and how to develop energy resources on their lands," said DOI Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland during his confirmation hearing last year.

In a slew of executive orders signed in Biden’s first week in office, he paused all new federal and oil gas leasing, though after facing criticism from tribes like the Ute Tribe in Utah, the DOI said that the policy would not impact fossil fuel development taking place on indigenous lands.

According to a 2014 study from the Poverty and Environment Research Center, around 20 percent of the nation’s oil and natural gas reserves, 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi River, as well as additional natural materials are located on Native American lands, all of which is worth around $1.5 trillion.

Despite the potential, around 86 percent of these lands with energy and mineral resources remain undeveloped, and just 3 percent of domestic oil production comes from tribal lands.

"Resource tribes depend on the development of their resources to create better tomorrows for our children," Conrad Stewart, the director of energy and water for the Crow Nation of Montana, told Fox News. "It was basically a mandate in Indian policy to establish and develop our resources."

The Crow Nation’s resource assets are worth an estimated $27 billion, which makes the nation likely one of the largest coal owners worldwide. The nation’s annual return on coal though is less than 1 percent.

"A war on coal is a war on Crow," Stewart said, criticizing the Biden administration's energy policies.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation, Osage Nation, Southern Ute Tribe and Navajo Nation are amongst several tribes nationwide that actively rely on energy revenues to meet their budget.

In North Dakota, the MHA Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, produces around 23 percent of the state’s 1.1 million barrels of oil daily.

In 2021, MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox said that it was his tribe's right to develop energy resources "so our children and grandchildren for the next 100 years have somewhere to live."

"The MHA nation has benefited tremendously from the oil and gas activity on reservation, primarily with employment," Ron Ness, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, told Fox News. "This is a reservation with a very low unemployment rate." 

"It's created a tremendous amount of wealth and opportunity for the enrolled members of the tribe," he added. "And they've been building schools and building facilities for the benefit of their members, whether it be law enforcement facilities, drug and alcohol treatment facilities, rehabilitation facilities."

The Navajo Nation’s oil and gas revenues are estimated to be upwards of $75 million per year, which is more than half of the tribe’s annual budged, Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company CEO James McClure told Fox News.

"The current administration has worked to support the Navajo Nation on most clean energy initiatives," McClure said. "The same cannot be said of oil and gas development."

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