US House passes Native energy bill; White House threatens veto

The U.S. House yesterday passed the Native American Energy Act, sponsored by Alaska Congressman Don Young. Young says the bill would encourage resource development on land owned by Lower 48 tribes and Alaska Native corporations. The White House, though, has threatened a veto.

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Young says the bill would cut red tape to help Native people develop their own resources. On the House floor before the vote, the Alaska Republican argued the bill would also deter frivolous lawsuits, in part by shortening the timeline for legal challenges.

“The judicial review provision is crucial for Alaska natives, whose ability to develop their own settlement lands has been abused by special interest groups filing lawsuits,” he said.

The White House issued a veto threat this week. In a memo, President Obama’s advisors said the bill would undermine public oversight and set unrealistic deadlines.

Young says arguments against his bill are part of old-fashioned government paternalism.

“And those that oppose this, it’s the same old story: ‘Don’t get too smart. We’ll give you a side of beef and a blanket. Don’t let us help ourselves. Let the government tell you what to do,'” Young told his colleagues. “This is a good piece of legislation. This did not come from me. This came from the Native tribes themselves.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva  spoke against the bill. The Arizona Democrat says it would weaken a bedrock conservation law, the National Environmental Policy Act. And, Grijalva says, it could apply on non-Indian lands, too.

“If an energy company is developing natural resources anywhere in the United States and they get a tribal partner they could fall under this provision,” he said. “This could incentivize energy companies to partner with tribes simply for the benefit of skirting NEPA and profiting from restricted judicial review.”

Young first sponsored a version of the bill in 2012. This year it won endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Congress of American Indians, among others. It passed with 254 votes, including those of 11 Democrats.

The House also voted to lift the ban on crude oil exports. Ending the 1970s-era ban has been a top priority for Sen. Lisa Murkowski since she became chairman of the Senate Energy Committee in January. She says the export ban is outdated and amounts to self-imposed economic sanctions.

The White House issued a veto threat for that bill, too, saying it’s unnecessary and that Congress should instead focus on transitioning to a low-carbon future.