Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tours the U.S.S. Constitution while in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 16, 2017.

House committee again leaves out Indian Country in hearing on Interior Department

The House Committee on Natural Resources is once again ignoring Indian Country as it pursues a more conservative agenda.

The committee is meeting on Wednesday to discuss the impacts of "excessive litigation" against the Department of the Interior. Yet no tribal leaders are on the witness list even as a hearing memo mentions the $3.3 billion in tribal trust fund settlements that were reached in recent years.

"Litigation wields the power to affect countless people and to force an agency to reshuffle its priorities," the memo, which was drafted by the Republican staff on the committee, asserts.

So while Indian Country is being left out, the committee isn't shy about revealing its true target. Environmental groups, most of them non-profits, are being singled out as "repeat plaintiffs" in lawsuits against Interior and the new administration of Republican President Donald Trump.

"Unfortunately, litigious groups also employ litigation as a tool to obstruct policies and actions they simply do not like," the memo reads. "For example, the Center for Biological Diversity’s website boasts a 'Trump Lawsuit Tracker,' proudly displaying a count of suits the organization has initiated against the current Administration on a variety of issues. CBD characterizes this as part of their attempt to 'resist Trump in every way possible.'"

The memo does not mention the energy companies and industry groups that also sue Interior on a regular basis. Instead, one of their advocates, an attorney whose biography boasts of winning lawsuits against the department, is the lead witness for the hearing.

Interior's representative is Daniel Jorjani, who serves as the "Principal Deputy Solicitor" at the department. Prior to joining the Trump administration, he was a top attorney for organizations run by the Koch brothers, who are known for pouring large sums of money into conservative causes with the goal of influencing federal policy. The Koch connection wasn't mentioned when Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Jorjani's hiring last month -- he was described as a "veteran" Interior official who worked at the department during the George W. Bush administration.

The House Committee on Natural Resources has jurisdiction over Indian issues but has moved slowly on the tribal agenda since the start of the 115th Congress in January. It has held just one markup session to consider tribal bills and the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs has met just four times to consider tribal issues.

The hearing takes place at 10am on Wednesday in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. The witness list follows:
Mr. Mark S. Barron
Denver, Colorado

Mr. Daniel Jorjani
Principle Deputy Solicitor
Office of the Solicitor
U.S. Department of Interior
Washington, D.C.

Ms. Caroline Lobdell
Executive Director and Supervising Attorney
Western Resources Legal Center
Portland, Oregon

Ms. Lois Schiffer
Former General Council
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Washington, D.C.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Oversight Hearing “Examining Policy Impacts of Excessive Litigation Against the Department of the Interior” (June 28, 2017)

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Key House committee under fire for moving slowly on tribal agenda (June 21, 2017)

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