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Feds schedule tribal meetings for energy permitting review

Feds schedule tribal meetings for energy permitting review
© Greg Nash

Federal agencies have scheduled six meetings for tribes to provide input on a proposed review of the permitting process for projects on American Indian lands.

The meetings, announced by the Interior Department on Friday, come amid uproar over the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project approved in July by the Army Corps of Engineers despite concerns from a tribe located near its proposed route in North Dakota.

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Earlier this month, the Obama administration froze construction on the pipeline to reassess its approval of the project. Officials also launched the broader permitting review. 

As part of that process, three departments invited tribes to six “nation-to-nation” listening sessions on the matter, beginning next month in Phoenix. 

“We understand that Tribal Nations’ voices must be heard, in a timely and meaningful way, with regard to Federal decisions that could affect their treaties, homeland, environment, cultural properties and sacred sites,” officials with the Departments of Justice and Indian Affairs and the Army Corps of Engineers wrote in a letter to tribes on Friday. 

“We look forward to your input as to how our agencies, and the Federal government as a whole, can improve Federal decision-making processes.”

Officials will also host meetings in Seattle, Albuquerque, N.M., Billings, Mont., Minneapolis and Rapid City, S.D.

Both tribes and the energy industry say the stakes of the administration’s review are high. Tribal leaders want more consultation on permitting decisions for projects they might opposes; the energy industry worries that might mean fewer permits for projects on public lands. 

The review started because of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and a lawsuit the tribe filed over it in August.

The tribe’s chairman, Dave Archambault, called the review a “historic moment” in a Friday statement. 

“This invitation is a good start but the government has a lot more to do to permanently protect the millions of people who rely on the Missouri River for water and who are put at serious risk because of this pipeline,” he said.