CROW AGENCY – Senator Steve Daines emphasized unemployment, the coal industry and jobs in Indian Country as part of a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing in Crow Agency on Wednesday.
The hearing at the Little Big Horn College Health and Wellness Center lasted nearly two hours, and Attorney general Tim Fox and Crow Tribe Chairman Darrin Old Coyote were among the speakers.
Sen. Daines discussed the importance of passing a permanent Indian coal tax credit. The temporary tax credit, which provides millions of dollars for the Crow’s economy, expired in December 2013. Daines and Old Coyote both testified the coal tax credit is crucial to adding jobs and improving unemployment rates on reservations.
“This is about jobs, it’s about self-determination, it’s about the ability to deal with the fact we’d have an 80 percent unemployment rate (on the reservation) if we discontinue coal production here,” Sen. Daines said. “These are good, high-paying jobs, and they’re essentially for the Crow people here in Montana.”
Sen. Daines told the crowd that he believes Environmental Protection Agency policies will harm the reservation’s ability to produce coal and add high-paying jobs in the near future. He says the EPA has not considered the detrimental effect new clean air regulations would have on Native American reservations.
“Coal represents 51 percent of our electricity produced in Montana,” Daines said. “These new mandates coming from the EPA will devastate the coal industry, raise our utility rates, and kill these jobs here in Montana.”
Other witnesses who testified included a research fellow from Harvard, a member of the Navajo Council in Arizona, and Jason Small, a journeyman boilermaker from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
Everyone who spoke was in favor of further developing coal resources on reservations, however, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member says she thinks the hearing was one-sided, and she was disappointed there was no time for audience questions.
Alaina Buffalo Spirit says renewable energy and investing in other industries can also lower the reservation unemployment rate.
“I feel the development of solar energy would be very good for my people,” she said. “Also, raising natural grass for cattle, raising organic vegetables, hops and barley, perhaps, there’s thousands of breweries that are in demand for hops and barley.”
Buffalo Spirit says she is a cancer survivor who is concerned about the pollution coming from coal plants, and she’s concerned for her grandchildren’s health.
Sen. Daines says renewable energy is important too, but he says coal needs to be a part of the solution to improve the economy in Indian Country. Sen. Daines added that there needs to be a more collaborative approach, with the EPA asking for input from tribal members, before they push regulations.