Opinion: Water bill hurts landowners on Crow Reservation
"Rep. Denny Rehberg has passed few laws in his 10 years representing us. Now he is trying to pass one that is probably harmful for the Crow Reservation. Rehberg says H.R. 3563 would help rehabilitate and improve the Crow Irrigation Project, and create jobs and lasting infrastructure for future generations. What he doesn’t tell Congress is that Section 9 of the bill forces 46 percent of the Crow Indians who have owned land for generations to give up their water rights. He doesn’t say this will give control of all the water from the Bighorn River to the tribal chairman so that he can give it to a proposed coal-to-diesel plant that will use 20 gallons of water to make one gallon of diesel.

The Crow Tribe has marketable coal below 33,000 acres of land along the eastern boundary of the reservation. Estimates of what is recoverable run as high as 19 billion tons. It takes roughly 1 ton of coal to produce one barrel of diesel under the method currently proposed. The tentative agreement calls for an initial 50-year development period, which would begin following federal permitting and construction of the plant.

The bill does offer improvements in the irrigation system for the reservation, but most of the water is used for cooling at the coal plant and comes out dirty. It is unclear how clean water will be given back to the tribe. And it is terminating the property rights of the Crow allottees (landowners), which were established by a federal statute from 1880 to 1899 and confirmed by Congress April 27, 1904. These are protected by the Constitution of the United States and the Crow Tribal Constitution as of April 16, 2002. Rehberg neglects to tell us that H.R. 3563 would waive federal rights held by the allottees. Congress has constrained tribal authority to regulate reservation resources, including water rights, by the Indian Civil Rights Act. Why would a Republican want any Montanans to give up their property rights, unless it helped the cost/benefit analysis of coal and oil, his No. 1 constituents?"

Get the Story:
Agnes “A.J.” Otjen: Rehberg proposes bad bill for Crow landowners’ water (The Billings Gazette 3/27)