- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Biden administration said that its freeze on oil-and-gas leasing approvals does not apply to tribal lands after a Utah tribe ripped the department for what it called a “direct attack” on its economy and sovereignty.

“The approval process outlined in the Secretarial Order for oil and gas activities does not apply to tribal and individual Indian trust lands,” an Interior Department spokesperson said in an email to The Washington Times.

The statement came after Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, fired off a Jan. 21 letter asking acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega for an exemption from his order suspending for 60 days any agency approvals for leasing and permitting on federal lands.

The two-page order, which places the top leadership in charge of decision-making on mineral production, said that the department will continue its existing operations “consistent with all legal obligations and policy goals to uphold trust and treaty responsibility to tribal nations.”

That line apparently failed to alleviate the concerns of the Ute Indian Tribe, which said in its letter that the order “violates the United States treaty and trust responsibilities to the Ute Indian Tribe and violates important principles of tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

“Your order was also issued in violation our government-to-government relationship, Executive Order No. 13175 on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, and Interior’s own Policy on Consultation with Tribal Governments,” Mr. Duncan said. “The Order must be withdrawn or amended to comply with Federal law and policies.”

The Interior spokesperson declined to say whether the department had contacted the Ute Indian Tribe. The Washington Times has reached out to the tribe for comment.

Frank Macchiarola, American Petroleum Institute senior vice president, said that the Interior Department should take it a step further and “withdraw the order in its entirety.”

President Biden is expected to unveil Wednesday a second series of climate actions, which will reportedly include a moratorium on new oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands in keeping with his campaign promise to ban hydraulic fracturing on federal property.

On his first day in office, Mr. Biden also signed an executive order canceling the 2017 cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, drawing cheers from Democrats and environmentalists who hailed the order as a win for the climate.

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