At the beginning of the 112th Congress I was named the Chairman for the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, a revived subcommittee within the House Natural Resources Committee. I urged that the renewal of this subcommittee was central to addressing important issues that affect the Indian and Alaska Native population. As the Chair one of my highest priorities is economic development and the creation of jobs for Native Americans.
Indian tribes and individual Indians own about 56 million acres of land held in trust. In the state of Alaska, another 44 million acres of land are owned in fee by Alaska Native Corporations. Together this 100 million acre land base contains a huge supply of diverse resources spanning from conventional and renewable energy, to hard rock minerals and aggregates, timber, farming, grazing, and fish and wildlife resources. Through responsible development of these resources, tribes and individual Indians are well-positioned to provide good jobs to tribal members and revenues to tribal governments. They can also help restore American manufacturing base that has been lost in recent years.
Unfortunately the federal government frequently prevents tribes from developing their own resources. Huge tracts of Native lands remain undeveloped because of outdated, paternalistic federal laws that no longer serve the best interests of Indian tribes. Most tribes are subject to federal laws that collectively prevent the development of natural resources on tribal lands. Examples abound, but a recent one that comes to mind was when the EPA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied permission to the Navajo Nation to build the Desert Rock power plant.
In Desert Rock - a giant, clean-burning coal-fired plant would have created thousands of good jobs to a Reservation with 50% unemployment. But today the project is caught in a sea of red tape created not for the benefit of the tribe but for the benefit of special interests that want to stop the project. This is unfair to the Natives who want economic development on their lands.
We need to ensure that federal environmental laws do not impede economic development for tribes. In order to do this I am working on a bill that will be focused on tribal development of energy resources and the creation of jobs for American Indians and Alaska Natives. At this point, I am holding hearings and soliciting input from Indian Country on how we can positively affect these problems. Please do not hesitate to contact me through the web form of my website if you have any suggestions.