May 19, 2023
President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
On behalf of NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization providing over 600 Tribal and Island Nations and Indigenous organizations with funding to build and invest in sustainable community development, renewable energy projects, and social enterprise development to address the climate crisis and repair environmental injustice, I urge you to reject the demands of Republicans in Congress to pass H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act, or allow the clawback of remaining funds appropriated in the CARES Act and ARPA legislation as a condition of passing the debt ceiling bill.
Tribal Nations, Indigenous peoples, as well as other people of color in low income and frontline communities, have been the first to experience the most severe impacts of a rapidly changing climate. We are the most affected by the contamination caused by extractive industries at the root of environmental injustice, climate change, and the exploitation of our lands. It is because of this lived experience that Tribal, frontline and grassroots communities must be formally consulted and at the table when it comes to decisions about permitting reform. At this moment, we are being shut out as environmental and climate related policy is part of the debt ceiling negotiations. This lack of consideration and inclusion of our voices and concerns flies in the face of recent commitments by your Administration.
Last November, you issued a Memorandum on Uniform Standards for Tribal Consultation. Our communities have relied on the commitments with the Memorandum and have shared our priorities around climate change and our many concerns regarding environmental justice for Indigenous people. While we understand that the permitting reforms included in H.R. 1 and the clawback of remaining funds from the CARES and ARPA bills are priorities for Speaker McCarthy and Congressional Republicans, we urge you to consider the concerns we have shared with you and oppose the inclusion of these provisions as part of any debt ceiling deal or legislation. As we’ve shared with you, the “dirty deal” they are pushing will continue irreversible harm to our lands, waters, and communities. Further, the approval of H.R. 1 would exacerbate the impacts of climate change for people across the globe.
Since the fall of 2022, NDN Collective – along with other Native and Tribal allies – has repeatedly made clear that the consideration of permitting reform as a “side deal” is unacceptable. The scope and impacts of the permitting reform legislation that is being considered deserves the full review and transparency the legislative process provides. Just a month ago, you signed an executive order to revitalize the nation’s commitment to environmental justice. We urge you to consider how agreeing to a deal including these provisions would betray the commitments of your Administration to the very communities who mobilized to elect you as president.
We urge you to stand in integrity and follow through on the promises you’ve made around climate justice.
Furthermore, last fall, 650+ environmental and climate justice groups, additional environmental justice on leaders (including members from the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council), and 400 scientists and health professionals along with the President of the American Lung Association, joined in raising the public health and climate risks of the permitting reform proposal currently being considered. Polling by Data for Progress shows that a majority of voters support considering the permitting deal as a standalone bill.
To be clear, Mr. President, NDN Collective and the groups we work and partner with support permitting reform – but it must be informed by those closest to the problem and go through regular legislative order in order for stakeholders to provide input and bring transparency to the crafting of the legislation.
Here’s what justice-based permitting reform looks like for Indigenous communities:
- Well-articulated and trustworthy processes – fully in place and fully enforced – that ensure Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is treated with the same scientific authority as the studies, reviews, and assessments performed by the federal government or those organizations and individuals it contracts with.
- Ample opportunity for Indigenous Peoples and EJ communities to consider, analyze, and comment on major federal actions under the National Environmental Policy Act, as Section 15 of the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act provides.
- Indigenous Peoples and EJ communities want to stop unlawful environmental discrimination by restoring the longstanding right to access the court to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Accountability from agencies charged with protecting our public health and environment.
- Transparent vetting that is inclusive of Indigenous peoples when contractors are selected and hired for environmental studies, reviews, and assessments, whether professors, scientists, or professional researchers, and organizations providing such academic and scientific services.
- Protections of ITEK data that would pose security risks for Tribes if misused or mishandled.
- Protections of Indigenous peoples’ intellectual property.
- Trust lands, ancestral lands, treaty lands, and other lands of contemporary significance must be weighted significantly by agencies. If the extent of these lands/waters is not known, there must be meaningful involvement and consultation of persons and staff in Tribal nations who have both this knowledge and the authority and community accountability to engage with federal agencies and industry.
- All federal government staff should receive training in federal Indian law and legal systems pertaining to Native Hawaiians and other Indigenous peoples, including but not limited to:
- Indigenous peoples’ human rights;
- Honorable practices of consultation, including case studies from the U.S. and beyond;
- The ethics and protocols of knowledge exchange with ITEK and other forms of science that Indigenous educational institutions, governments, and organizations collect;
- The history of federal failures to protect Indigenous peoples through permitting and regulation;
- Examples of how Tribal self-governance and sovereignty has proven to be a solution for our greatest issues.
- Meaningful recognition of Indigenous cultural heritage, including as expressed through language, Indigenous concepts (i.e., viewscapes), harvesting practices, etc. Concepts such as “biodiversity” or other ecological or environmental science should not be used in ways that erase or discount Indigenous practices, and the impacts on Indigenous practices.
- The cumulative pollution burden on communities to be considered and abated before project or permit approvals are given, such as the language included in section 7 of the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice For All Act.
Mr. President, we urge you to stay steadfast to your climate and environmental commitments to Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, and to oppose the inclusion of H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act, in any debt ceiling or budget deal. Tribal and Indigenous people and our collective future require your political courage to stop, once and for all, the environmental injustices that have devastated our communities with impunity.
President and CEO