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2005-08-09

Energy Bill: Fueling Corporations/Depleting Native Lands

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The recently signed energy bill means more benefits for energy companies and a revival for the nuclear power industry. Also included is a provision changing how energy development decisions are made on Native American lands. We speak with Karen Wayland with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clayton Thomas-Muller with the Indigenous Environmental Network. [includes rush transcript]

Yesterday, President Bush signed a massive energy bill at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bush had traveled from his ranch in Crawford, Texas in order to sign the $14.5 billion dollar bill which is the first major overhaul of the nation’s energy policies in 13 years.

  • President Bush, "The bill will allow America to make cleaner and more productive use of our domestic energy resources including coal and nuclear power and oil and natural gas. By using more of these reliable resources to supply more of our own energy we’ll reduce our reliance on energy from foreign countries and that’ll help our economy grow so people can work."

Energy executives and industry lobbyists have been working on variations of this bill for five years. In fact, the legislation grew out of a task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton. The Cheney Energy Task Force, which was formed in 2001, was charged with developing a national energy policy. Some documents released under court order showed that the task force met exclusively with industry executives.

Supporters of yesterday’s energy bill, which was passed with bi-partisan support, claim that the new law will refocus the country’s energy priorities and promote cleaner and alternative sources of energy. Critics however point out that the bill gives huge tax breaks and subsidies to energy companies that are already enjoying record-high profits. And as crude oil prices reached a new high above $63 dollars a barrel yesterday, they point out that the energy bill does nothing that would impact today’s energy prices or promote sustainable energy by decreasing dependence on oil imports. The bill also revives the nuclear power industry by giving loan guarantees for builders of nuclear power plants. No new nuclear plants have been built in the U.S since the 1970s, reflecting intense public skepticism about the safety and costs of nuclear power.

The energy bill also has major implications for Native Americans living on reservations. Some Indian leaders have praised the law, which creates an Office of Indian Energy Policy & Programs at the Department of Energy. The office is supposed to increase the supply of electricity to reservation homes and businesses. However, other leaders and activists denounce the law for allowing further exploitation of Native energy resources through provisions for sending nuclear waste to reservations and renewing uranium mining on Indian land. The Indigenous Environmental Network, a Native grassroots organization, said the energy bill "poses threats to our lands, people and culture." And on this 60th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, the first new nuclear power plants to be built in 30 years will likely be sited on reservations as well.

Title V Section of the bill deals directly with energy development on Indian lands, including Alaska. Native activists condemn Title V for the dramatic changes it brings to how energy development decisions are made in Indian Country. The provision releases the federal government of its traditional "trust responsibility" to tribes in the negotiation and enforcement of energy development agreements. Some tribal activists fear unfair deals will be made between powerful energy corporations and tribal governments.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, President Bush signed a massive energy bill at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bush had traveled from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in order to sign the $14.5 billion bill, which is the first major overhaul of the nation’s energy policies in 13 years.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This bill will allow America to make cleaner and more productive use of our domestic energy resources, including coal and nuclear power and oil and natural gas. By using these reliable sources to supply more of our own energy, we’ll reduce our reliance on energy from foreign countries, and that will help this economy grow, so people can work.

AMY GOODMAN: Energy executives and industry lobbyists have been working on variations of this bill for five years. In fact, the legislation grew out of a task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the former C.E.O. of Halliburton. The Cheney Energy Task Force, which was formed in 2001, was charged with developing a national energy policy. Some documents released under court order show the task force met exclusively with industry executives.

Supporters of yesterday’s energy bill, which was passed with bipartisan support, claimed the new law will refocus the country’s energy priorities and promote cleaner and alternative sources of energy. Critics, however, point out the bill gives huge tax breaks and subsidies to energy companies that are already enjoying record high profits, and as crude oil prices reached a new high, above $63 a barrel Monday, they point out the energy bill does nothing that would impact today’s energy prices or promote sustainable energy by decreasing dependence on oil imports. The bill also revives the nuclear power industry by giving loan guarantees for builders of nuclear power plants. No new nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. since the 1970s, reflecting intense public skepticism about the safety and cost of nuclear power.

We’re joined in our D.C. studio by Karen Wayland, Legislative Director of the National Resources Defense Council. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KAREN WAYLAND: Good morning. Thank you. It’s actually Natural Resources Defense Council.

AMY GOODMAN: Natural Resources Defense Council. Can you talk about the significance of this energy bill?

KAREN WAYLAND: Well, Congress only gets to write energy legislation about once every decade, once every 15 years, and so what the Congress passed right now is going to set our energy policy for the next generation at least, and it is a huge missed opportunity, because it really is the same old same old. It gives huge subsidies and incentives to the conventional energy production and misses great opportunities to really shift the direction of energy policy towards clean, renewable sources that will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to let people know that the shuttle just landed, as we broadcast live today. The shuttle just landed in California. Talk more about who influenced this bill.

KAREN WAYLAND: Well, it’s clear when you look at public opinion, over 80% of the American public is worried about our dependence on oil. You’ve got national security experts on the right talking about our dependence on oil. We have seen editorials across the country saying that we need a new direction in energy policy, and they’re all saying that this energy bill misses the mark. So you have to ask yourself who Congress listened to when they were writing this bill, and if you look at the beneficiaries of the bill, the oil, gas, nuclear, and coal industries are receiving billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies, and I think that if you look at campaign contributions, you know, the oil and gas industry gave millions of dollars in campaign contributions over the last five to seven years, and I think they have gotten a very good return on their investment with the billions they’re getting back with this energy bill.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to talk about the effect on Native America of this energy bill. The energy bill that was signed yesterday has major implications for Native Americans on reservations. Some Indian leaders have praised the law, which creates an Office of Indian Energy Policy & Programs at the Department of Energy. The office is supposed to increase the supply of electricity to reservation homes and businesses. But other leaders and activists denounced the law for allowing for further exploitation of native energy resources through provisions for sending nuclear waste to reservations and renewing uranium mining on Indian land. The Indigenous Environmental Network, which is a Native grassroots organization, said the energy bill, quote, "poses threats to our lands, people, and culture." And on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, the first new nuclear power plants to be built in 30 years will likely be sited on reservations, as well.

Title V Section of the bill deals directly with energy development on Indian lands, including Alaska. Native activists condemned the Title V for the dramatic changes it brings to how energy development decisions are made in Indian country. The provision releases the federal government of its traditional trust responsibility to tribes in the negotiation and enforcement of energy development agreements. Some tribal activists fear unfair deals will be made between powerful energy corporations and tribal governments.

We are joined on the telephone by Clayton Thomas-Muller, who is a Native energy organizer with the Indigenous Environment Network in Ottawa, Canada, but works out of Bemidji, Minnesota. Welcome, as well, to Democracy Now!

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Yeah, good to be here. Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk further about the effect particularly on reservations in this country?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, you see, the Indian provisions within the Title V of this monstrous bill that has just been signed into law by President Bush, you know, has all types of implications for American Indians and Alaska Natives. You see, bottom line, the main thing that this Title V legislation brings to our communities is it definitely strips protections that, you know, grassroots indigenous peoples utilize to ensure their full and meaningful participation in major decisions related to energy development in our homelands.

See, the energy bill, basically under the guise of tribal sovereignty, the Title V puts the responsibility of enforcement of environmental review on policy and regulations in the hands of tribal governments, and the problem with this is many tribes, you know, i.e., the energy resource tribes, the tribes of, you know, infrastructure to have these kinds of policies in place already, you know, definitely are in a position to be able to do that. However, many more of our tribes are not, and basically what this bill does is it rolls back the protections of the National Environmental Policy Act, the protections of the National Historical Preservation Act, both of which are critical pieces of legislation that grassroots indigenous peoples utilize to protect our sacred sites, and what this bill does is it puts that responsibility in the hands of tribal governments and basically puts all of the responsibility and liability on the hands of tribal governments.

And the bill goes even further to provide an explicit waiver of the sacred trust obligation that this federal government has to tribes to ensure, you know, that energy development agreements between powerful corporations and tribal governments, you know, that there is a fair and equitable negotiating field. And so, tribal community members are very concerned about this bill and the implications that it brings to our homelands over the next, you know, ten years.

AMY GOODMAN: Clayton Thomas-Muller, did tribes in this country lobby on this bill?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, definitely. You know, there was a very powerful, powerful, you know, push by the Council of Energy Resource tribes to pass this legislation through. The Indigenous Environmental Network, however, for the last three years has been supporting our grassroots community members to try and educate members of Congress about our concerns with this bill. You know, we did bring on a few occasions a couple of our frontline activists, you know, that are fighting oil and gas development, the destructive oil and gas development in our homelands, that are fighting the citing of nuclear waste facilities in their homeland to D.C. to talk about the fact that Native Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives are not opposed to development; however, we want it done in a right way, and providing and promoting more unsustainable development in our homelands is not the right way to go about it. Unfortunately, though, we’re here today where we are and having to look at other steps to move forward with with the passage of this legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Clayton Thomas-Muller, Native energy organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Karen Wayland, Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Karen, can you talk about how your group, the NRDC, got the documents of energy — of Cheney’s Energy Task Force?

KAREN WAYLAND: Yes, NRDC sued the administration, because the Bush-Cheney Energy Task Force had been meeting in secret to develop the administration’s energy policy, and we wanted to know who exactly the task force met with when they came up with their policy recommendations for how energy policy is going to be done in this country. The administration stonewalled, and so we had to go to court. The Sierra Club also had a separate suit against the administration. We originally got a set of documents through the first court case that showed that the task force met primarily with representatives from the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industry, and I can tell you that they were not meeting with environmental organizations during that time. We subsequently lost the second round of the case and haven’t been able to get anymore documents out of the administration on how that task force proceeded. But it is quite clear from the documents that we did get that — and if you look at the policies that came out of that task force, that the industry was writing the energy policy for this country.

AMY GOODMAN: And the most important industries that lobbied? The companies?

KAREN WAYLAND: I don’t have the company names for you.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. When we come back, we will talk about nuclear politics and the energy bill with Karen Wayland, Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Clayton Thomas-Muller, Native energy organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We continue on the energy bill that President Bush signed into law yesterday in New Mexico at Sandia National Labs. Well, we’re joined by Karen Wayland, Legislative Director of Natural Resources Defense Council, and Clayton Thomas-Muller, Native energy organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. Karen Wayland, can you talk about nuclear power in this bill?

KAREN WAYLAND: The nuclear industry gets a lot of the giveaways in this bill. In the tax section alone, they get 37% of the tax breaks, on the order of about $7 billion, and then there’s another probably $5 billion in the nuclear section of the bill. So they certainly are getting a huge push. There is an attempt to get at least six nuclear power plants online over the next ten years through this bill, and also the bill restarts the United States reprocessing industry, which since the Ford administration we’ve had a ban on reprocessing because of the national security implications, so there are some huge policy changes for the nuclear industry in the energy bill.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s talk about the issue of nuclear power on Native lands.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Hello?

AMY GOODMAN: Hi, the whole issue of nuclear power on Native lands.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, you know, the Indigenous Environmental Network views this move to give a boost to the very destructive nuclear industry as basically nuclear colonialism of our homelands. You know, bottom line, no matter which way you cut it, nuclear energy is totally not clean, and indigenous peoples, you know, Native Americans here in the United States have suffered disproportionately as a result of this industry. You know, one only has to go to the Navajo Nation to see the legacy that uranium mining has put on the shoulders of our people. Many of our indigenous community members have worked in the uranium mines, have died, you know, way before their time as a result of working with this toxic substance. You know, bottom line in the energy bill, it promotes, you know, the expansion of nuclear power plants, the building of new nuclear power plants. And, of course, indigenous peoples being, you know, the place where a majority of the uranium in the United States is mined from our homelands, of course, we’ll see within the life cycle of this uranium a lot of impacts associated to it because of the fact that, you know, a lot of the nuclear waste in the United States is destined for the sacred homeland of the Western Shoshone and Yucca Mountain and, of course, the temporary home of this nuclear waste is being targeted for the Skull Valley Goshutes territory in Utah. And, of course, another piece of this energy bill that it contains $30 million to the uranium mining industry for research and development of the new In-situ uranium mining or solution mining, which basically one of the communities that we’re supporting in the Navajo Nation is an organization called the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, or ENDAUM. And they have been fighting an In-situ uranium mining company that wants to come in and inject toxic chemicals into their homeland basically to suck up the liquefied uranium out of the ground. And this kind of approach to uranium mining has all kinds of implications for that desert region.

AMY GOODMAN: But Clayton Thomas-Muller, what about the ban on uranium mining?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Well, this is where it gets a little bit interesting. You see, the area that is proposed for development is all checker-boarded. In other words, there’s both Native and non-Native land side by side, and this Texas-based company that wants to go in there and take the uranium out is directly challenging the Navajo Nation’s ban on uranium mining, and so it set a battleground, if you will, between the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty and this federal government, because this federal government still has what’s called plenary power.

AMY GOODMAN: The name of that corporation?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: I’m afraid I don’t have that in front of me. But if you go and google ENDAUM, Eastern Navajo Against Uranium Mining, or go to the Nuclear Information Research Society, NIRS’ website, you can find that information out.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it Peabody Coal?

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: No, it’s not Peabody Coal. It is a uranium mining company. But basically, you know, what we see happening is, you know, not just in the Navajo Nation, but also up in Alaska, we have the Athabascan community of Galena, which has become another victim in this nuclear colonialism. They plan on building a small nuclear reactor which is actually buried 30 meters underground up there. And the way that they’re trumping this nuclear power plant that they want to build up in the Athabascan community of Galena, and they happen to be Gwich’in, many of you are aware of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Well, the community of Galena is part of the Gwich’in Nation, which has been fighting oil and gas development in that region, they want to build a nuclear reactor in their community, as well. and so this whole nuclear industry, bottom line, our position at the Indigenous Environmental Network is that it is not a solution.

AMY GOODMAN: Clayton Thomas-Muller, on that note we’re going to wrap up, but we’re going to continue to talk about the issue of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in our next segment, when we talk to Nagasaki. Clayton Thomas-Muller is with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Karen Wayland, Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. I want to thank you both for joining us.

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