Category Archives: courts

Environmental Assessment Not Vacated on Remand in Dakota Access

The DC District Court demands defendants fulfill statutory obligations.

Turtle Talk

Here are the documents in the matter of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe et al v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers et al (D.D.C. 16-cv-01534):

Doc. 283 – Order

Doc. 284 – Memorandum Opinion

Other materials posted here.

Excerpt:

In light of the “serious possibility” that the Corps will be able to substantiate its prior conclusions, the Court finds that vacatur is not the appropriate remedy in this case. That determination does not, however, excuse Defendants from giving serious consideration to the errors identified in this Court’s prior Opinion. Compliance with NEPA cannot be reduced to a bureaucratic formality, and the Court expects the Corps not to treat remand as an exercise in filling out the proper paperwork post hoc. After the agency’s further work on remand, the parties may well disagree over the sufficiency of its conclusion. If and when such a dispute arises, they will again have the…

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Land-in-Trust challenge against Ione Band stopped in Ninth Circuit; U.S. Supreme Court Carcieri Ruling Distinguished.

On Oct. 6, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Eastern District of California’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Interior (DOI). In 2005, the County of Amador challenged the 2012 Record of Decision placing land into trust and approving casino development for the Ione Band of Miwok Indians. Specifically, the challenge focused on the determination that the Tribe was under federal jurisdiction, per the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), and was a restored tribe receiving restored lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The Ninth Circuit, interpreting Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009), decided that a tribe must have interacted with the federal government prior to 1934 and must be officially recognized at the time of the trust application submission. Land purchase negotiations over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved Congress and the Department in Ione Band affairs.

The appellate court understood this to mean that the Tribe had been under federal jurisdiction and that the intent of the IRA allowed recognition to occur at any point as long as federal jurisdiction was established in 1934 or earlier. The Ninth Circuit examined the legislative history of the IRA, in addition to contemporaneous administrative findings, and found that Congress intended the Act to apply to tribes recognized after 1934.

DOI’s interpretation of “under federal jurisdiction” separated the meaning of “recognized” from the phrase. The Department considered federal jurisdiction to mean an action or series of actions that establishes or reflects Federal obligations, authority, and duties for or to a tribe. The Court accepted this interpretation, affirmed the district court, and also ruled that the IGRA “restored tribe” exception was met.

In a related case, No Casino in Plymouth v. Zinke, the appellate circuit remanded to the Eastern District of California with instructions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and organizational standing. The plaintiffs had not submitted specific facts showing that its members would have individual standing and its evidence was not allowed for a motion of summary judgment. Read case 

WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: OMNIBUS SPENDING BILL, TAX EXTENDERS, INTERIOR IMPROVEMENT ACT

Vietnam memorial at ChristmasCongress Passes $1.8 Trillion Spending Measure
 
After much debate and wrangling and some say a beaten down Congress on Friday December 18th, 2015 passed a $1.8 trillion package of spending and tax cuts with little rancor.  Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) had promised there would be no shutdown or default this year. And was quoted as saying “By any objective standard, I think, the Senate is back to work”.  Speaker Ryan was credited with winning a majority of Republicans votes for the huge spending and tax package, although House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) insisted that Republicans came on Board only because of a recently added provision to end a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. And, at a recent news conference President Obama said, “we’ve gotten kind of used to last-minute crises and shutdown threats and so forth…this is a messy process that doesn’t satisfy everybody completely, but it’s more typical of American democracy. And I think that Speaker Ryan deserves a role in that”.
Representative Tom Cole (R-Ok) managed much of the floor debate for Republicans and said that all lawmakers could find items to support or oppose in such a huge spending and tax-break package.  As an end result, the period of belt-tightening ended in Washington the spending measure for 2016 provides a $66 billion increase in Federal outlays above previously agreed-upon limits, divided equally between military and nonmilitary programs.  The White House and congressional Democrats said they had thwarted the Republicans’ main policy goals, including efforts to cut off government financing for Planned Parenthood and put restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees, while securing a number of their own priorities, including tax benefits for working Americans and to promote renewable energy.  And Speaker Ryan, who was the former Chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee pushed through the major tax-break package that many Democrats opposed.
The House approved the Tax Breaks on Thursday Dec. 17th and the spending measure on Friday with a vote of 316 to 113, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats supporting the bill.   The Senate then voted to end the debate on the overall legislation, dispensed with several procedural steps, and approved the package, 65 to 33.
Spending Bill provisions impacting Tribal Programs:
  • For the Indian Health Service (IHS), the omnibus provides a total appropriation of $4.8 billion, a 3.6% increase over FY 2015 levels. This includes flat funding at $914 million for Purchased/Referred Care (formerly Contract Health Services) and $523 for Facilities, a $63 million increase. It also provides an additional $10 million to alcohol and substance abuse for a focus on Tribal youth, and an increase of $12.9 million for staffing.
  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is funded at a total of $2.8 billion, a 7.5% increase over FY 2015 enacted. This includes $2.26 billion for the Operation of Indian Programs, a $161 million reduction compared to FY 2015, as well as $852 million for the Bureau of Indian Education. Notably, the bill also contains $138 million for school construction, an increase of $63.7 million, which should complete the 2004 replacement school construction list.
  • For Contract Support Costs (CSC) at both BIA and IHS, the omnibus creates an indefinite appropriation using the language, “such sums as may be necessary,” rather than specific amounts. Tribes and Tribal organizations advocated for the CSC line item to be made mandatory on a permanent, indefinite basis in order to stabilize funding, protect funding appropriated to other line items, and help to avoid funding shortfalls. Though the omnibus does not make CSC mandatory, providing for an indefinite appropriation will allow the agencies to pay CSC in full, as required by the Supreme Court decision in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter, as well as protect other line items in the budget and avoid shortfalls.
  • In addition to the omnibus, Congress also passed a $680 million package to extend a number of critical tax provisions that have been expired since the end of 2014. Each of these tax credits is designed to encourage increased investment in projects within Indian Country, as well as increased jobs for Native people and indicate that greater tax reform is around the corner.  These include:
    • Indian Employment Tax Credit. Extended until December 31, 2016, this provides a tax credit for private employers of tribal members and their spouses in Indian country. On-reservation unemployment rates and poverty rates are disproportionately high, and this tax credit encourages on-reservation employers to invest in the Native workforce. Without the certainty of permanency, and with effectively only one year of guaranteed credits at this point, employers have less incentive to invest in Native workers.
    • Accelerated Depreciation for Business Property on Indian Reservations. Extended until December 31, 2016 this provision allows businesses located on Indian land to claim a tax credit for certain property and infrastructure investments at sooner than they would be able to if located off-reservation. Because this credit is effectively only guaranteed through the end of 2016, there is less incentive for businesses to relocate onto Indian lands and spur on-reservation economic growth.
    • Indian Coal Production Tax Credit. Extended until December 31, 2016, this provides a tax credit to producers of coal on Indian land. This credit is vital to draw coal businesses to Indian country, where many tribes lack the capacity to produce and export their coal in-house. Again, because coal businesses are effectively only guaranteed this credit through the end of 2016, there is less incentive to build up the infrastructure and workforce necessary.
    • New Markets Tax Credit. Extended until December 31, 2019, this program provides tax credits to businesses investing in low-income workforce’s and communities, including-but not limited to-Native communities.
    1. Low Income Housing Credit.  Permanently extended, this provision allows the 9-percent minimum credit rate for the low-income housing tax credit for non-Federally subsidized new buildings. Though not limited to tribes, low income housing projects on Indian lands will now be more predictable and attractive to private investors.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Passes S. 1879, 

the Interior Improvement Act 

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) passed the Interior Improvement Act, S. 1879 that was introduced by Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wy) in July of this year. The bill improves the Department of Interior’s trust land acquisition process by codifying and streamlining portions of the process, reaffirming the Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes and reaffirms the statutes of lands already taken into trust. The Chairman added manager’s amendments that were technical in nature and did not stray far for the original legislation.  Assistant Secretary Washburn has supported the legislation saying at most it codifies existing practices at the department, and does not disrupt the current land into trust review and will expedite the process for many trust lands applications.  This bill now sets the mark for legislation in the next Congress, and indicates that Congressional movement to fix the US Supreme Court Decision (Carcieri v. Salazar in 2009) is closer at hand.
 

Victory for Big Lagoon Rancheria: Restoring Certainty for Challenging Lands into Trust after 1934

The Big Lagoon Rancheria had a major victory this month after an en banc decision granted Big Lagoon the authority to pursue the construction of a casino on tribal land in trust.  In 1994, the United States accepted into trust an 11-acre parcel of land on which the Tribe sought to build a casino.  The Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) allows tribes to operate class III gaming only after entering into a tribal gaming compact with the state.  When negotiations stalled, Big Lagoon brought suit against California, and in 2007 the district court ordered the parties to come to an agreement after finding that the state had not negotiated in good faith.

California appealed, and pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri (2009), the Ninth Circuit found that because Big Lagoon was not federally recognized in 1934, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) lacked authority under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) to accept land into trust for Big Lagoon.  The three-judge panel concluded that since the 11-acre parcel was not tribal land, Big Lagoon lacked standing to compel California to negotiate.

However, the Ninth Circuit’s recent en banc panel vacated the previous decision and reinstated the district court’s holding that state violated IGRA by failing to negotiate in good faith.  If California had wanted to contest the original acceptance of the parcel, the state would have had to do so under the Administrative Procedure Act within the six-year statute of limitations.  The en banc panel’s ruling helps restore some certainty to tribes recognized after 1934 by preventing collateral attacks on tribal land in trust beyond the statute of limitations.

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