The delicate debate on fossil fuels on Native American lands

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The Biden administration has found itself between a rock and a hard coal seam. A cohort of Native American tribes have realized how sacred — and lucrative — their lands are, and they don’t trust the promises of an old white man this time.

“When the administration says, ‘We’re going to create all these millions of jobs if we just change [to renewable energy] today “they didn’t show us the fine print of where these jobs are coming from, what region, doing what,” Daniel Cardenas, president of the National Tribal Energy Association and member of the Pit River Tribe, told Fox News. Digital in an interview. “When you start questioning them there, they start to get defensive.”

Native American lands are rich in untapped fossil fuel resources worth at least $1.5 trillion (as of 2014), and many who live on these lands have come to rely on these resources to sustain their communities. . Yet, according to Fox, the Department of the Interior “has repeatedly expressed support for strengthening the tribal sovereignty of Native tribes, but has also pursued a climate agenda limiting fossil fuel production on federal lands and waters.” .

The contradictions abound and the debate is curious. On the one hand you have people like Conrad Stewart, director of energy and water for the Crow Nation of Montana, telling Fox that “a war on coal is a war on Crow.”

But there is another group of Indigenous people who ‘reject the proposition that our traditional lands should be sacrificed on the altar of irresponsible energy policies’ and equate fossil fuel extraction on Indigenous lands with ‘exploitation’ . A 2018 article in American Scientist profiled a group of “indigenous peoples…rejecting oil, coal and gas extraction in favor of renewable energy to save their land, increase employment and fight global warming.” And a panel of Harvard public health ‘experts’ went so far as to claim earlier this year that ‘fossil fuel extraction harms Indigenous communities’, linking cancer cases to other problems. health and “growing up and living near oil and gas operations”. ”

One of the Harvard panelists noted that “such activism by Indigenous peoples has been successful in the past,” citing a campaign his late father led to end gold mining in the Little Rocky Mountains. of Montana in the 1990s.

But can the notoriously poor Native Americans afford to reject fossil fuel extraction? And can the rest of the country afford to let them?

Consider that, according to the Indigenous Environmental Network, “Indian reservations hold more than 35% of America’s fossil fuel resources” – that’s billions of tons of coal, billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, reports Energy plant.

Also consider how much $1.5 trillion could do to boost Native American tribes. “Air, water and energy are the basis of our economy. I believe in the right of all landowners to develop what is theirs in any way they wish,” Cardenas said.

Many Native American tribes — like many non-Indians as well — don’t want to depend on government and are fed up with bureaucracy that gets in the way of progress that could benefit everyone.

In Montana, for example, “The Crow [Nation’s] main source of income is the 43-year-old Absaloka mine in Hardin,” reported QC press in 2017. “In recent years, the tribe has been pushing to open a second mine that could produce 1.4 billion tons of coal and generate $10 million for the tribe in five years.”

Yet according to QC“The Tribe’s attempts to open the new mine have been partially thwarted by federal land use and environmental rules which the Tribal Government believes infringe on its sovereignty.”

Former Crow Tribe Chairman Darrin Old Coyote told the publication at the time, “I don’t want to be dependent on the US government. We have the resources, we have the manpower, we have the ability to be self-sufficient.

“Noting that the tribe’s unemployment rate hovers between 25% and 50%,” the article continues, “[Old Coyote] added: ‘There is no reason for us to be so poor.’

In fact, when, on the first day of his term, President Biden signed an executive order to suspend federal oil and gas rental and drilling licenses, the Ute Indian tribe, which according to Reuters, “produces approximately 45,000 barrels of crude oil per day…with approximately 900 million cubic feet of natural gas per day,” requested and was granted an exemption to the rule (how is this for Biden “eating Crow!”). The tribe told the DOI at the time, “The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy-producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members.”

The Biden administration therefore faces a conundrum. They claim to be committed to making Native Americans more self-sufficient, but then condition Native American sovereignty on doing what they want, which is to abandon fossil fuel production in favor of so-called green energy. Many poverty-stricken tribes understand how impossible it is to achieve sovereignty when their ability to benefit from their immense natural resources is so heavily regulated.

Yet, by granting Indigenous peoples easier access to fossil fuels, the Biden administration was forced to abandon its “plan for a clean energy revolution and environmental justice.” It’s a tough pill to swallow, given that climate change is, according to the administration, “the greatest threat facing our country and our world.”

“Sounds like an Ute problem, Joe,” as the kids might say. It appears, however, that whatever Biden does, the GOP is poised to win over another demographic of historically strong Democratic voters.

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