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In Historic Vote, House Committee Passes Two Zinke Bills:Recognition of Little Shell and Certainty for States and Tribes Act

September 8, 2016
Press Release

In Historic Vote, House Committee Passes Two Zinke Bills:Recognition of Little Shell and Certainty for States and Tribes Act

(CONGRESS) September 8, 2016 – Today the House Committee on Natural Resources advanced two of Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke’s bills, the Certainty for States and Tribes Act and legislation to federally recognize the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe. Both pieces of legislation were offered by Senator Steve Daines in the U.S. Senate. 

Regarding the Recognition of the Little Shell

Daines and Zinke both introduced this federal recognition bill while serving in the House (Daines then introduced it in the Senate this Congress). It was the very first bill Rep. Zinke introduced. The State of Montana recognized the Little Shell Tribe in 2000; however, they have been seeking federal recognition for more than 100 years. This is the first time in Congressional history the House Natural Resources Committee voted to recognize the Little Shell. A different bill containing federal recognition of the Little Shell passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on March 18, 2015.

"The Little Shell Tribe appreciates Congressman Zinke's steadfast efforts towards restoring our federal recognition.  He has been a great ally to our people,” said Chairman Gerald Gray of the Little Shell. “His Little Shell Restoration Act will right the wrong that my people have suffered for over one hundred and fifty years by providing us the dignity and respect that we deserve.  We hope the House will take action quickly and pass Mr. Zinke's Little Shell Restoration Act this month."

“It’s is a good day for the Little Shell. Today, for the first time ever, the House Natural Resources Committee voted to federally recognize the Tribe,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke. “The greater bill is not perfect but I stand in solidarity with Chairman Gray and the Tribe and I will work to pass it on the House floor as a stand-alone provision. The tribe has been waiting generations for this and it was truly a group effort. I was honored to carry the bill in the House and it was the first piece of legislation I introduced. I'm hopeful for a quick conclusion to this long overdue recognition. Montana is home to the great warrior tribes and certainly the Little Shell represents that warrior spirit.” (Download audio of Zinke’s statement here)

Regarding the Certainty for States and Tribes Act H.R. 5259

This legislation aims to protect Montana coal jobs from the Obama Administration’s moratorium on federal coal leases and ensure that states and tribes have a significant voice in any changes to federal coal, oil, and gas royalties or leasing policy. It does this by reestablishing the Royalty Policy Committee; places a firm, reasonable timeline on the programmatic review of the federal coal leasing program to occur; and allows for existing lease applications (LBAs) and modifications (LMAs) who are under National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) review by the Department to move forward, all while ensuring federal coal lease program lease sales are conducted in a timely and consistent manner following completion of respective NEPA reviews. (Read more from Lee) Rep. Zinke amended his own bill to require the DoI to publish the conclusion of the Royalty Policy Committee in order to ensure their findings do not simply go into a black hole of bureaucracy. H.R. 5259, as amended, passed by a bipartisan vote of 22-13.

“The Obama Administration has unilaterally stripped Montana’s and the Crow Tribe’s voices from the conversation about how we can mine and use our own clean coal resources by disbanding the Royalty Policy Committee – a group of stakeholders who weigh in on mineral resource development in their areas,” Rep. Zinke stated. “After working with my colleagues in the House and Senate as well as local stake holders in tribal and local government, it became clear that the only way to ensure they have a seat at the table is through Congressional action. It’s a shame I even had to introduce this bill and that Congress has to codify the ability for the American people to weigh in on our own livelihoods."

"Tribes have long been cut out of the conversation when it comes to our own land. We want and need to develop our coal in order to provide jobs, services, and education to our people, but the federal government is making it near impossible. Congressman Zinke's leadership has been critical for the Crow to develop our coal," said Dana Wilson, Vice Chairman of the Crow Tribe. "The Certainty for States and Tribes Act will go a long way to protect our coal jobs and our economy. Ryan has always been a strong voice for tribal rights and economic development for our people, making sure that the government recognizes our sovereignty and our say in what happens on our lands. I hope the bill passes the full Congress and is signed into law as soon as possible. We need to make sure that local and tribal views are always considered in such significant matters."

In a Senate hearing earlier this year, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was asked if a three year timeline to end the coal lease moratorium is appropriate. The Secretary admitted that three years is appropriate, confirming the validity of Zinke’s bill. Watch the video here.

Sen. Tester: “Is three years a reasonable amount of time to get this survey done, and if it is, would you support legislation saying that.”

Sec. Jewell: “I would support legislation putting a date certain. Three years we believe is as fast as we can do it.”

Ashley Dennehy, Colstrip United Co-Founder: “The Certainty for States and Tribes Act is a great piece of legislation because it puts the power back into the hands of the experts. It allows states, Indian tribes, and other stakeholders to have a say in the policies that impact them directly. As a Montanan it makes me proud to know that Senator Daines and Representative Zinke are working for a better relationship with the Department of the Interior. I hope that this will save coal towns like mine, and give us the opportunity to prosper and keep Montana an energy exporter for many years to come. By putting the people who are directly impacted in the position of advising our federal leaders you are putting a real-world experience on the policies.”

Musselshell County Commissioners: “The State of Montana and the Musselshell county’s fiscal health and stability are directly tied to the coal industry. Musselshell County is very dependent on the health and vitality of the coal industry. The legislation Senator Daines and Congressman Zinke are proposing will ensure the voices of our communities, state and industry are being heard and good policy is being made. The Musselshell County commission fully supports the Certainty for States and Tribes Act which will provide the stability needed for the Signal Peak Energy Mine to continue to operate in Musselshell County as well as provide the necessary mitigation our community, state and coal industry need for certainty about future decisions concerning coal leases.”

National Mining Association President and CEO, Hal Quinn said: “The legislation introduced by Senator Daines and Congressman Zinke brings fairness, stakeholder input, and transparency to the Department of the Interior’s activities related to the Mineral Leasing Act. Balancing the use of our natural resources with environmental protections that are second to none is a far better approach than simply keeping valuable resources in the ground.”