- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2021

A Utah tribe blasted the Biden administration’s Wednesday order freezing agency approvals for oil, gas and coal permitting on federal lands, including tribal lands, calling it a “direct attack” on Native American sovereignty and self-determination.

The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, which has run an oil-and-gas operation on its 4.5 million-acre reservation for more than 70 years, requested Thursday an exemption for tribal lands from the Interior Department order that halts agencies from issuing permits and leases on mineral production for 60 days.

“The Ute Indian Tribe and other energy producing tribes rely on energy development to fund our governments and provide services to our members,” said the Thursday letter from Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee.

“Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination,” he said. “Indian lands are not federal public lands. Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation.”

Mr. Duncan said the order was issued “in violation [of] our government-to-government relationship,” as well as previous federal directives on coordinating and consulting with tribal governments.

Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega issued a memo Wednesday, the first day of the Biden administration, suspending agency action on permits, leases and easements on federal lands and waters while the department conducts a “targeted and time-limited” review.

Interior spokesperson Tyler Cherry emphasized that the order does not halt all permitting, but “temporarily elevates review of relevant agency decisions” to “Department leadership for the purposes of reviewing questions of fact, law, and policy they raise.”

“The Order does not impact existing ongoing operations under valid leases and does not preclude the issue of leases, permits and other authorizations,” Mr. Cherry said in an email, adding, “Nothing has been paused or suspended — just elevated for review.”

The action was decried by energy companies, unions and the House Energy Action Team, which urged the administration to reconsider, arguing that the suspension would harm U.S. energy security, raise prices, and put at risk thousands of jobs even as workers struggle with pandemic shutdowns.

“An all-out assault on American energy independence appears to be the top priority of the Biden Administration,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican. “From rejoining Paris to canceling Keystone and now this ban on drilling on federal land, it’s clear the campaign trail rhetoric of banning oil and gas is turning into actual policy in the Biden-Harris White House.”

Critics worry that the temporary halt will become permanent in line with Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to ban hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, which would all but eliminate oil-and-gas development on federally owned property.

“Just like we repeatedly said he would, President Biden caved to progressives’ radical demands on his first full day in office,” said Guy Reschenthaler, Pennsylvania Republican. “His drilling moratorium will kill family-sustaining jobs, raise energy prices for everyday Americans, and empower our foreign adversaries by forcing us to rely on hostile countries for our energy needs.”

On his first day in office, Mr. Biden also signed executive orders canceling the Keystone XL cross-border permit and starting the process of rejoining the Paris agreement in what environmental groups praised as a victory for the climate.

Canadian tribes partnering with TC Energy on the pipeline project had urged Mr. Biden not to cancel the KXL permit, saying it would be “devastating” to their communities.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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