The federal government took sides in a dispute between Indian tribes over natural resources, ultimately preventing an impoverished tribe from accessing the energy wealth of their land.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blocked a proposed coal terminal in Washington state May 9 in the name of protecting treaty rights of the Lummi Nation tribe. This was a huge defeat for the Crow Nation, a Montana Indian tribe, which owned a stake in the $700 million proposed coal terminal, according to a Forbes report.
The blockage is merely the latest in a long line of federal regulations that have devastated America’s coal industry.
“Indian reservations are noted for their poverty and most people think of them as desolate pieces of land when in fact many of those reservations sit on trillions of dollars of energy sources. These resources amount to a million dollars per Indian,” Dr. Terry Anderson, the author of the Forbes report and a senior fellow and economist at the free-market Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The problem is that these resources are held in trust by the federal government, meaning the Indians need to get approval from the federal government to tap them. The Crow reservation has been trying to develop its cleaner coal reserves which are in high demand in Asia.”
The Crow tribe has an unemployment rate over 30 percent and a poverty rate above 40 percent. Roughly 20 percent of the region’s economic output and eight percent of the worker pay in the region comes from a single coal mine, according to a study published by Harvard University.
“For the Crow people, there are no jobs that compare to a coal job,” Darrin Old Coyote, a Crow tribal chairman, told Forbes. “The war on coal is a war on our families and our children.”
Over 20 percent of American Indian households on reservations made less than $5,000 annually in 2013, compared to six percent of the general U.S. population. The Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota has the lowest per capita income of any group in America, averaging a mere $4,043 annually.
“Indians remain resource rich, but income poor, due to these federal policies which don’t allow them to use their energy resources,” Anderson continued. “Tribes have been unable to get permits and capitalize on their energy wealth due to federal trusteeship.”
Indian reservation lands have the potential to produce a vast array of wealth that could enrich the tribes by
$75 billion annually, according to a study by PERC. Due to federal bureaucracy and trusteeships of agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management mean that roughly 86 percent of Indian lands with energy or mineral potential remain undeveloped. This bureaucracy costs the average reservation resident $12,145 in lost revenue annually, according to an academic economic analysis published in January.
The systematic deconstruction of the coal industry has reached beyond Indian reservations to the “coal country” of Appalachia, which has been economically devastated. Coal mines lost 7,500 jobs last year alone, according to federal data and a study last April found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012.
Federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt, resulting in a sharp decline in the price of coal, are to blame for much of the job loss.
The situation for coal miners and Indian tribes would likely get worse if Obama’s Clean Power Plan is fully implemented. The plan would more than double the number of coal plants shutting down over the next five years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The shutdowns have a cascading effect, causing coal production to collapse by a predicted 30 percent over the next decade.
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