Thought Piece

While I suspect that this storyline will either be ignored or confined to the small stories with small print, I think that Senator Hoeven’s bill will help the tribes of North Dakota gain more control of their energy assets and economic development. One year after the DAPL debacle, which used the “plight” of Native Americans in the major media along with much outside money, large environmental group organizing, and many protesters from other states, the Senate has taken a practical step for the Native Americans in North Dakota and the other American tribes. Congrats, Senator Hoeven!

Senate Passes Hoeven’s Bill to Streamline Tribal Energy Development

Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, today issued the following statement after the Senate passed bipartisan legislation he introduced to cut red tape and remove barriers to tribal energy development. The Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017, which has 7 bipartisan cosponsors, will provide Indian tribes with greater autonomy over the management and development of their energy resources.

“Indian tribes should have the same opportunities to develop their natural resources as any other sovereign nation,” said Hoeven. “For years, Washington’s overregulation has hurt tribal energy development and stymied economic growth in Indian Country. This commonsense bill will cut red tape and provide tribes with greater flexibility to develop energy resources to best meet the needs of their local communities.”

“The MHA Nation appreciates Senator Hoeven’s work to pass Indian energy legislation,” said Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. “Our reservation is in the middle of the most active oil and gas play in the United States, but barriers to Indian energy development stand in our way. This bill would help streamline the permitting process and provide options to tribes so that we can more fully benefit from the development of our resources.”

“The Southern Ute Indian Tribe strongly supports this legislation,” said Clement Frost, chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. “Energy development on our lands generates hundreds of jobs and household incomes to tribal members and surrounding families alike. The 2005 Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act was an important step toward supporting tribal energy development, but amendments are needed to perfect the Tribal Energy Resource Agreement mechanism, which is an important tool to provide willing tribes with a process to govern the development of their energy resources without costly and burdensome secretarial reviews, approvals, and oversight.”

Most notably, the senator’s legislation will amend the Indian energy title of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to:


  • Provide a more effective and accessible way for Indian tribes to develop their energy resources and increase United States energy independence.
  • Streamline and bring greater certainty to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ approval process for Tribal Energy Resource Agreements (TERAs).
  • Require more technical assistance and consultation with Indian tribes in the early stages of energy resource development.
  • Improve efficiency by authorizing Indian tribes and certified third parties to conduct energy appraisals, in addition to the Secretary of the Interior.
  • Encourage the formation of joint tribal-industry ventures for purposes of developing tribal resources without secretarial approval, provided the tribe remains the majority owner and in control of the venture.
  • Direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to treat Indian tribes in a manner similar to States and municipalities with regard to preferences for permits and original licenses for hydroelectric projects, where no preliminary permit has been issued.
  • Authorize tribal biomass demonstration projects under the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 to assist tribes in securing reliable, long-term supplies of woody biomass materials.


Hoeven’s legislation to streamline Indian energy development dovetails with his work to strengthen tribal economies and bring greater accountability and oversight to federal Indian programs.

In February, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) added Indian energy programs to its 2017 High Risk List, citing inefficient management of Indian energy resources and the development process by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The GAO reported that the BIA has limited opportunities for tribes and their members to develop energy resources, generate revenue and improve the well-being of their communities.

Hoeven has held two oversight hearings this year, in May and September, to monitor the BIA’s progress in addressing the GAO’s recommendations to improve federal Indian programs, including tribal energy management and development.