FROM THE ARCHIVE

Interior opposes oversight in energy bill

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THURSDAY, MARCH 20, 2003

The Department of Interior objects to provisions in an energy development bill that would create a commission with investigative powers, an aide said on Wednesday.

"The department is strongly opposed to the proposed power of the commission to subpoena testimony and records," Theresa Rosier, counselor to acting assistant secretary Aurene Martin, told a Senate committee.

S.522, the Native American Energy Development and Self-Determination Act, creates the Indian Energy Resource Commission. It would be composed of tribal leaders, taxation experts, energy industry representatives, environmentalists and government officials.

Tribal leaders yesterday said they supported the idea and specifically raised the need for the commission to study taxation issues. The bill outlines a number of goals.

But Rosier said the body shouldn't be able to compel the Interior to cooperate. "The commission should not be an investigatory body," she testified.

Last year, the Bush administration opposed the creation of an Indian trust commission with broad investigatory powers. Tribal leaders wanted an independent body in order to make sure the Interior was meeting its trust responsibilities.

Keith Harper, a Native American Rights Fund attorney, wasn't surprised with the Interior's opposition to the latest proposal. He said the department has always resisted oversight.

"A commission without independence, expertise and enforcement powers is useless," he said.

At the hearing, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said the Interior seemed to be reluctant to support the bill overall. "It sounds like the Energy Department is going to be much more supportive of Indian programs than the Interior," he said.

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