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WASHINGTON — First-term New Mexico lawmaker Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), a member of the Cherokee Nation, is denouncing President Biden’s halt on new energy development on federal lands, an effort applauded by many conservationists. 

Oil and gas harvested from federal lands account for about a quarter of all U.S. annual production according to the Bureau of Land Management. It pays a lot of bills.

“The energy industry funds our schools and provides thousands of families with the opportunity to provide for themselves,” Congresswoman Yvette Herrell said in an email to her supporters. 

The Biden administration’s halt on new energy development on public lands is a temporary freeze of 60 days with hopes to overhaul an outdated leasing program that has not been modified in decades. 

“On Day 2, Biden announced a ban on new oil and gas leases on Federal lands—a move that could cripple the energy industry that New Mexico relies on for thousands of jobs—and nearly half of our state's budget!” continued Yvette Herrell in an email. 

Yesterday, the Department of the Interior announced that tribes are exempt from Biden’s halt on new leases for oil and gas on land belonging to tribes.

“The approval process for oil and gas activities does not apply to tribal and individual trust lands,” Interior spokesman Tyler Cherry said in an email to Reuters

American Indian tribes are collectively estimated to hold three percent of the known oil and gas reserves in the United States, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

The clarification after the Ute Indian Tribe asked the Department of Interior for an exemption from the 60-day pause, saying it would hit its economy and sovereignty.

The Ute Indian Tribe of Utah’s Uinta and Ouray reservations on Thursday asked the Interior Department’s Acting Secretary Scott de la Vega to exempt the tribes from the energy-development suspension, saying the halt would affect its economy and sovereignty. 

“The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members,” Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee in Utah, said in a letter to acting U.S. Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega.

“Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination,” continues the letter by Duncan to acting U.S. Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega. 

While tribes have a complicated relationship with the oil and gas industries, Chase Iron Eyes, lead attorney of the Lakota People’s Law Project and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, chimes in. 

“If you support big extraction you are making a choice in this life to disregard Indigenous potential for that of colonial extraction,” said Lakota People’s Law Project attorney Chase Iron Eyes to Native News Online. “If you support the human trafficking of Indigenous children in cages who have a prior and sovereign right to traverse colonial boundaries then you are no friend of humanity. You are a friend of exploitative extractive profit.”

According to a report by the George W. Bush Institute, Indian reservations contain almost 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, 50 percent of potential uranium reserves, and 20 percent of known oil and gas reserves — resources worth nearly $1.5 trillion, or $1.5 million per tribal member.

Many Republicans believe the Biden administration including the Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland will mess with the management of public lands and the natural resources industry on federal lands.

"Ms. Haaland has repeatedly demonstrated contempt towards our [oil and gas] industry, especially regarding the need for a balanced approach to public land management," said Jim Winchester, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico to USA Today on his concerns of Haaland leading the Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management. ”We urge congressional leaders to closely examine her anti-oil & gas record as they consider this selection.”

Daniel Turner, executive director of Power the Future – a pro-fossil fuel advocacy group – said previously to USA Today that Haaland’s selection was the most “radical” selection of a U.S. cabinet member in the country’s history.

However, many in Indian Country are looking forward to Representative Deb Haaland (D—NM) confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior, and the first-ever Native American to lead a cabinet agency. 

Correction, Jan. 26, 2021: A previous version of this article stated that the 60-day suspension of U.S. oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands applied to tribes. On Jan. 25, 2021, the Department of the Interior announced that tribes are exempt from the Biden administration’s halt on new leases for oil and gas on land belonging to tribes. We regret the error. 

Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe & Tohono O’odham) is a freelance journalist who has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Native News Online, Indian Country Today, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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About The Author
Author: Darren Thompson
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a freelance journalist and based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.