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Jeb Bush wants tribes and states to control energy development

Polar bears in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo from North Slope Borough

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released his energy policy on Tuesday, calling for tribes and states to be in control of energy development within their boundaries.

"Current federal energy policies impose Washington, DC’s will on how states, tribes, businesses and families produce and use energy," Bush, who is a former governor of Florida, wrote on Medium.

According to Bush's plan, the federal government should "generally defer" to tribes and states when it comes to energy development. He offered up Alaska as one state where federal law and policy bar exploration on certain lands.

"Washington should generally defer to the will of states and tribes," the plan states. "Their citizens and leaders are best able to weigh the benefits and costs of oil and gas development."

Jeb Bush. Photo from Facebook

Although not mentioned in the plan, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native corporations, cannot develop its subsurface mineral rights because they are located within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where development is barred. The Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, which owns the surface rights and the land itself, cannot benefit either.

The plan did not offer specifics on the ways in which the government could defer to tribes. But similar policies have proven effective, especially the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act, or HEARTH Act, which prevents tribes from seeking approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for every single housing, leasing or development project. Nearly two dozen tribes have taken advantage of the law since Congress enacted H.R.205 in July 2012.

On the other hand, no tribes have taken advantage of a similar provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Tribal energy resource agreements, or TERAs, are confusing and the process remains uncertain, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released in June.

"We don't have a single TERA that's been signed and that means something has gone wrong," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the BIA, said at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in May 2014.

Although Bush is the first candidate to call for equal treatment of tribes and states, not everything in his plan will be embraced in Indian Country. He said he will approve the Keystone XL Pipeline if he is elected president. Tribes have been fighting the project due to concerns about treaty lands, water, health and safety.

Government Accountability Office Report:
Indian Energy Development: Poor Management by BIA Has Hindered Energy Development on Indian Lands (June 2015)

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