Environment | Politics

Senate Indian Affairs Committee talks coal at hearing in Montana

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) chaired the Senate Indian Affairs Committee field hearing on the Crow Reservation in Montana. Photo by Kristi Angel / The Billings Gazette / Twitter

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a field hearing in Montana on Wednesday to examine coal development in Indian Country.

According to The Billings Gazette, only three tribes are developing their coal resources. One is the Crow Tribe, whose Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said Environmental Protection Agency regulations that affect emissions from coal production are hurting the economy on the reservation.

“The EPA clean power program is creating problems for Crow Nation,” Old Coyote told the committee, the Gazette reported. “The EPA did not consult with Crow Nation, did not consider the economic impacts on Crow Nation and did not provide a less obtrusive alternative.”

The committee also heard from representatives of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and the Navajo Nation. Along with the Hopi Tribe, the Navajos are only the third tribe that develops its coal resources.

"The Navajo Nation mines approximately 8 to 10 million tons of coal each year, down from 13 to 16 million tons before the U.S. EPA regulations began to take its toll on our resources and we have billions of tons more to mine to feed our Navajo economy," Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lorenzo Bates said in his written testimony.

The Northern Cheyenne Reservation is home to a large coal reserve that remains untapped. Jason Small, a tribal member, told the committee that a referendum is being scheduled to determine whether to move forward with development.

"As you probably know, Indian reservations contain 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars of energy resources. In my opinion, coal must continue to be the mainstay in the energy mix," Small said in his written testimony. "While wind, solar, bio-mass, and hydro energy can contribute to our national energy needs, it is clear they cannot totally replace coal as a base load power sources."

Freshman Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana), who previously served in the House, chaired the hearing. He plans to introduce a bill to make the Indian Coal Production Tax Credit permanent in hopes of spurring development for tribes.

“What gets lost in the debate back in Washington about energy development in general, and coal in particular, is what it means to real people in places like Crow Agency, Montana, where this is not an abstract policy debate in the halls of Congress, but a debate about the lives of real people, and the future of sovereign nations looking to be self-sufficient and provide for their own livelihood," Daines said in a press release.

According to news reports, a large crowd attended the hearing. However, the committee did not invite testimony from critics of coal development in Indian Country. No one from the Obama administration appeared either.

Get the Story:
Indian coal economy has suffered because of EPA regs, tribes say (The Billings Gazette 4/9)
US Senate hearing focuses on coal in Indian country (The Great Falls Tribune 4/9)
Federal coal policies under scrutiny at U.S. Senate field hearing (MTN News 4/9)
Senator Steve Daines Talks Jobs and Coal in Indian Country (KULR 4/8)
U.S. Senate Field Hearing Focuses on Coal in Indian Country (AP 4/8)

An Opinion:
Rep. Ryan Zinke: Don’t let Gateway Pacific become next Keystone (The Montana Standard 4/9)

Committee Notice:
Oversight Field Hearing on "Empowering Indian Country: Coal, Jobs, and Self-Determination" (April 8, 2015)

Related Stories:
Sen. Daines to lead SCIA field hearing on coal in Indian Country (4/7)
Alaina Buffalo Spirit: Oppose coal for Northern Cheyenne Tribe (4/6)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets field hearing in Montana (4/2)
Bill seeks to make Indian Coal Production Tax Credit permanent (03/13)
Jason Small: Northern Cheyenne Tribe must develop resources (3/10)
Native Sun News: Northern Cheyenne Tribe hails land measure (12/31)
Controversial defense bill includes Northern Cheyenne Tribe deal (12/09)

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