Facebook Twitter Email
Bush's energy policy and Indian Country
MAY 18, 2001

The word "tribal" is mentioned a total of eight times in the electronic version of President Bush's 170-page energy document. "Indian" is mentioned three times.

In contrast, "California" is mentioned 20 times alone within the 20 first pages. But that doesn't mean Indian Country won't be affected by any of Bush's proposals. Here's a look at some of them.

Besides opening up ANWR, one of the most controversial affecting tribes are the development of a national nuclear repository and speeding up licensing (or relicensing) of nuclear power plants.

The Skull Valley Band of Goshute want to host a private nuclear fuel repository on their Utah reservation. But Chairman Leon Bear says his tribe will fare better economically the longer Yucca Mountain, the proposed national site, is held up. Opposition by state officials, lawmakers, citizens, and area tribes has so far delayed the projected opening of Yucca Mountain.

The Prairie Island Tribe of Minnesota is opposed to expansion of a nuclear power plant located next to its reservation. State lawmakers want to extend the plant's life and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have to relicense it.

Related Stories:
Tribe files suit to protect nuclear investment (4/20)
Tiny tribe worried about nuclear push (5/9)
Tribe opposes nuclear extension bill (5/15)

Indian Country is home to a vast number of natural resources, such as oil, gas, coal, and timber. The report points out that development of public and tribal lands accounts for 38 percent of the 1.1 billion tons of coal generated in 1999.

Tribes could definitely see economic benefits from increased production of natural resources, provided tribal and allotted owners receive favorable returns. Within the last year, a number of gas and oil companies have made settlements with the Department of Justice over claims of not properly compensating Indian owners.

Related Stories:
Court rules against Crow tax (7/18)
Oil royalty case settled (10/25)
Koch ready to settle oil suit (10/27)
California tribes seek power plants (3/20)

The policy says anywhere from 1,300 to 1,900 electric plants need to be constructed to meet existing and rising demand. Tribes could benefit here and already some California tribes are seeking to host plants, such as the Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla.

Bush's plan also recommends legislation to address rights-of-way for electricity transmission lines on federal and Indian lands. There already exists such legislation for natural gas pipelines but the issue in general has been thorny for some tribes who have attempted to collect taxes from utility and other companies on rights-of-way.

Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Crow Tribe of Montana's taxes due to the right-of-way issue. A number of other tribes in the circuit have similar taxes which may now be challenged.

Related Stories:
Court rules against Crow tax (7/18)
California tribes seek power plants (3/20)

Water projects have had devastating economic, cultural, and social effects on Indian Country. Congress continues to settle such damages and last year passed legislation to create a $290 million economic development trust fund for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota.

So some tribes might not welcome the plan's recommendation to speed up licensing of hydropower projects, which account for about 7 percent of the electricity generated, making it the fourth largest source after coal, nuclear, and natural gas.

The policy also proposes to address problems facing the cash-strapped Bonneville Power Administration. Due to the energy crunch, the BPA, which sells electricity generated from four federal dams in the Pacific Northwest, has asked to relieve itself of some of its duties under a plan finalized last year to protect salmon.

Four treaty tribes want the BPA to continue to spill water to restore endangered and threatened runs of salmon in the Snake and Columbia river basins.

Related Stories:
Bill would put $290M in tribe's fund (9/14)
Salmon threatened by energy crisis (2/9)
Changes to hydropower may affect tribes (5/10)

By far the most controversial, opening up ANWR to oil and gas development is hotly debated among Alaska Natives who are on opposite sides of the issue. The plan proposes exploration and if possible, developing, a "small fraction" of ANWR's coastal plain.

Congress would have to authorize any actions affecting ANWR.

Related Stories:
Natives square off over Arctic drilling (5/18)

Get the Policy:
Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future (The White House 5/17)
ERRATA: Corrections (The White House 5/17)

Related Stories:
Bush drops the energy bomb (5/18)