(The Center Square) – The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uinta and Ouray Reservation in Utah sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) this week asking for the agency’s recent order that temporarily halts leases and permits for energy development on federal land to be “withdrawn or amended.”
Luke Duncan, the tribe’s chairman, sent the letter on Thursday asking the DOI to amend its order “to provide an exception for energy permits and approvals on Indian lands.”
“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 letter, which was obtained by The Center Square.
The letter comes after Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order Wednesday that halts approvals of new federal land leases and drilling permits for 60 days.
The order was among other moves President Joe Biden made in the first days of his presidency to reinstate stricter environmental regulations that were rolled back under the Trump administration. Biden revoked the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit and rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, among other executive orders he signed this week.
The DOI’s order says it “continues its existing operations – including operations necessary for health, safety, and national security matters – consistent with all legal obligations and policy goals to uphold trust and treaty responsibility to tribal nations.”
Duncan, however, says in the letter that the order “is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty, and our right to self-determination,” and alleges it violates the U.S.’ treaty with the tribe, which has 2,970 members.
“Indian lands are not federal public lands,” he added. “Any action on our lands and interests can only be taken after effective tribal consultation.”
“The Order must be withdrawn or amended to comply with Federal law and policies,” the letter said.
An Interior Department spokesperson told The Center Square that the secretarial order "does not apply to tribal and individual Indian trust lands."
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and the state’s congressional delegation also criticized the Biden administration in a statement, calling the order “a serious mistake that will harm” small businesses in the state that are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although it is routine for an incoming administration to pause high-level agency decisions while agency leaders get into place, such a widespread suspension of routine permitting decisions normally made in the field is unprecedented,” read the statement.
Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, Utah Reps. John Curtis, Blake Moore, Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens, state Senate President Stuart Adams, state House Speaker Brad Wilson and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes were all part of the joint statement.
"The economic impacts of this decision will be felt nation-wide and couldn’t come at a worse time for Utah’s rural communities, tribes, and small businesses,” the statement continued. “Our energy industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Utahns previously employed in the energy sector have lost their jobs in historic numbers. This decision only exacerbates the problem.”
Utah is estimated to lose a total of $1.5 billion in oil and gas tax revenues by 2040 from a lease moratorium on federal land, according to a report commissioned by the Wyoming Legislature.