The US Interior Department announced Monday it would exempt Native American tribes from the temporary restrictions it is imposing on oil and gas leasing and permitting in federal lands and waters. According to an Interior spokesman, this decision follows a strong pushback on the policy from these tribes.
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Exemptions to the oil and gas leasing ban
On Monday, the US Interior Department announced it is currently exempting Native American tribes from its temporary oil and gas leasing restrictions and permitting in federal lands and waters. In this regard, the approval process outlines that the Department’s new order for oil and gas activities does not apply to tribal and individual Native American trust lands.
According to an Interior spokesman, this decision comes after the strong pushback on the policy several of these communities manifested. Therefore, the Interior declares the exemption order was issued to review “questions of fact, law and policy.”
The Interior Department’s January 20 order currently halts “any onshore or offshore fossil fuel authorization” for 60 days (OD Jan. 22’21). In this sense, the regulation applies to “new federal leases, lease revisions, extensions and permits to drill, but not existing operations under current leases or permits.”
More importantly, this exemption for tribal land on oil and gas leasing and permitting; comes after a January 21 letter to Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega, signed by the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee. In the letter, the committed called the order a “direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination.” The letter states that the order violates mandates on tribal sovereignty.
However, not all Native American tribes think the same in this matter. For instance, several Navajo Nation officials welcomed Biden’s 60-day stoppage; as they feel that federal oil and gas leasing in northwestern New Mexico has resulted in low air quality; high methane emissions, and even increased Covid-19 morbidity.
State Actions for an energy transition
A new 60-day freeze on new federal oil and natural gas permits is also running into opposition from states; that will be heavily impacted by the decision, especially in the Rocky Mountain region and Alaska.
Court showdowns are said to already be under discussion. For instance, the Interior is also expected to issue an additional ban on new fossil fuel leasing this Wednesday.
According to a Politico source, this ban would last for at least one year for oil and gas leasing and up to three years for coal leasing. Both orders are viewed as the first steps for US President Joe Biden’s campaign promises in this regard.
Presumably, Biden administration officials will now be exploring their options for making the restrictions permanent in some form.
Utah’s state leaders have also vocally resisted Biden’s actions. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox and ten other state and federal officials representing the state were quick to decry the 60-day policy.
“Although it is routine for an incoming administration to pause high-level agency decisions while agency leaders get into place, such a widespread suspension of routine permitting decisions normally made in the field is unprecedented,” they said.