Monday, Nov. 14, 2005
Energy corridor may impact reservation land
WINDOW ROCK -- U.S. government plans to designate national "energy corridors" on federal lands in 11 western states surrounding the Navajo Nation, appear to be building toward a legal takeover of Indian land through rights-of-way agreements the tribe could be forced to accept.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 enacted in August directs the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy and the Interior to designate federal land in 11 western states for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines, and electricity transmission and distribution facilities, or "energy corridors."
The federal agencies must amend their land use plans to designate the series of corridors on federal lands in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and have been conducting hearings on the issue, though none in Navajo Indian Country.
Federal lands are a combination of public domain lands, including state property and lands administered by agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which holds 56 million acres in trust status on behalf of Indian nations and individuals.
Federal land under Interior stewardship amounts to 437 million acres. The USDA Forest Service manages another 192 million acres -- including Coconino National Forest where the San Francisco Peaks are located. The Department of Defense oversees 25 million acres on 425 major installations. The feds also control 1.76 billion acres of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.
Designating energy corridors as required by Section 368 of the 3-month-old energy policy could significantly impact the environment, the federal agencies said, prompting them to publish a notice of intent to prepare the West-Wide Energy Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in the Sept. 28 edition of the Federal Register. Deadline for comment is Nov. 28.
The Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management, co-lead agencies in the effort, with the Forest Service acting as a cooperating agency, held a series of public meetings Oct. 25-27 in Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Wyo., and Helena, Mont. Meetings also were conducted Nov. 1-3 in Boise, Idaho; Sacramento, Calif.; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; Phoenix and Seattle.
The Navajo Nation holds rights to a wealth of oil, gas, coal, uranium and other minerals -- as well as hundreds of thousands of acre feet of precious water needed to sustain an ambitious energy corridor.
NATION LEFT IN THE DARK
Though the proposed corridors completely surround the Navajo Nation, Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur said Wednesday (Nov. 9) that committee members have not been told anything about it and have not been involved in federal discussions. Resources has oversight on issues pertaining to lease permits for oil, gas and mineral development on Navajoland.
The Office of Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. has yet to respond to queries from The Independent regarding whether the Nation has been consulted.
Resources' Arthur said, "In as far as the U.S. energy corridor is concerned, at least for us as oversight on that part of the discussion, we have never been apprised of it."
"The Navajo Nation Resources Committee has never been at the table, has never participated in any shape or form in any of these discussions. Furthermore, if there is such a discussion, youıve got to keep in mind that the Nation is a sovereign state. Whether people realize it or not, everything stops at the border."
The Navajo Nation is still in the process of developing its own energy policy which would reflect the objectives and mission statement of the Nation in regard to energy development in local, national, and international arenas, according to Arthur.
One of this greatest concerns in the designation of energy corridors is the vulnerability of the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation "because of the land structure and the relationship that it has with the federal government with the trust responsibility.
"I guess you could look at is as the Nation is a bigger figure in trust lands than individual allottees, so the vulnerability of individual allottees in respect to the pressure and impact of federal regulations and big corporations coming in is very open. Theyıre very vulnerable," Arthur said.
Uranium mining companies already are leasing land in Church Rock and Crownpoint within the Eastern Agency, despite the Nation's ban on uranium mining and processing passed in April by the 20th Navajo Nation Council.
President Shirley signed an Executive Order Nov. 4 prohibiting Navajo Nation employees from communicating with uranium mining companies without first receiving guidance from the Nation's Department of Justice.
Shirley said the move was necessary because some companies have been willfully disrespecting the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 which banned uranium mining and processing.
GOVERNMENTAL GROUPS ISSUE ENERGY MEMORANDUM
A memorandum of Understanding was signed in August 2001 among DOE, the Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality, and members of the Western Governors' Association. The MOU was to establish cooperation between western states and the federal government to address the West's growing energy problems.
An August 2002 letter to Vice President Dick Cheney from then-Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Interior Secretary Gale Norton advised Cheney that an interagency task force, the National Energy Policy Development Group, had been formed to address issues associated with "renewable energy" production on federal lands.
"Our response to the national Energy Policy reflects a commitment to increase our energy security by expanding the use of indigenous resources on Federal lands, while accelerating the protection of our environment," they said.
The Energy Policy Act co-sponsored by New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman contains a section on energy right-of-way corridors on federal land. Section 368 directs the secretaries of the various agencies to ensure that additional corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal land "are promptly identified and designated as necessary." The secretaries also are instructed to "expedite applications."
El Paso Natural Gas, now in trespass on Navajoland after the two entities failed to reach agreement on the value of El Paso's right-of-way renewal, has teamed with a Washington, D.C.-based lobby group, the Fair Access to Energy Coalition, which gos by the acronym FAIR, to "ensure the movement of energy across tribal lands on reasonable terms."
Other members of FAIR include: New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the Association of Commerce and Industry of New Mexico, Arizona State Chamber of Commerce, Arizonans for Electric Choice and Competition, California State Chamber of Commerce, and Enterprise, which had its right-of-way agreement approved last month on the same day El Paso's expired.
The Enterprise contract is worth approximately $23 million over the next 20 years for right-of-way access across 318 miles of fee land. The tribe is seeking $400 million from El Paso for its 900-mile stretch of pipeline right-of-way and associated projects.
NOT IN TUNE WITH THE TIMES
El Paso representatives were in Window Rock Thursday (Nov. 10) hoping to get an extension from the Resources Committee; however, they failed to get on the agenda but will try again later this month.
El Paso has asked Interior Secretary Norton for an opinion regarding right-of-way status on Indian land. El Paso contends the federal government actually owns the land and that it's just held in trust for the Navajo Nation.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association is seeking Domenici's support in amending the Indian Right of Way statute to allow the Secretary of the Interior to grant pipeline rights-of-way over tribal lands despite objections by the affected tribes.
Resources' Arthur said, "In the discussion of the rights-of-way ... it's been very difficult because they perceive the Nation as not having to have been in tune with today's market value and the industry as a whole.
"But I think that people in the industry need to realize that we've been down that road, and we're not going to go down the same road twice and be expected to conclude our business settlement on the same terms and conditions as it was in the 1980s or the mid-1990s."
ON THE NET (to view map): http://corridoreis.anl.gov/guide/maps/map2.html