Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Fri, Sept. 18

Sees energy bill as sovereignty threat

A major energy legislation before congress that is on the verge of passage is a real threat to Indian self-determination and Indian tribal sovereignty. Senate Bill S-14, Section B would give the Interior full authority to lease minerals on Indian lands without tribal approval, putting leasing of minerals on Indian lands [back] to the 1950 era.

What is the Navajo Nation doing to fight this legislation? Apparently not much. The Navajo Nation should have fought this dangerous legislation with every resources at its disposal to delete section B and other damaging provisions.

Giving the Bureau of Indian Affairs the mineral leasing authority would mean minimal returns on the energy resources developed on Indian lands, but, more importantly, the loss of authority to negotiate these mineral leases on the part of the tribes.

We have the support to delete these dangerous provisions in the bill, but to accomplish this requires a massive lobbying effort on the part of the Navajo Nation and other tribes. If this legislation becomes law, which is mostly likely, the Navajo Nation would lose its pivotal role in energy policy and energy development in the West. This would be a major setback for Indian tribes that have energy resources on their lands.

This is not an isolated case where the tribe failed to use its political power to defend what is rightfully belong to it or to assert its economic power to seize economic opportunities. Twenty years ago, the Navajo Nation was in a strong position to assert its water rights against surrounding states when it was quantifying its water rights but since then, those efforts have dissipated to the point where the Navajo Nation will have to beg its neighbors for a little water (negotiated settlement).

In the past 20 years, the Navajo Nation has given away its right of way to Western Power Authority and Southern Edison Power Co. for $20 million in stocks, which are now practically worthless. The Navajo Nation also lost its rights to control or dictate the terms of pipelines that cross the Navajo Nation when it could have easily acquire ownership of these facilities such as power lines, pipelines and power plants. Because of political bickering, the tribe has not acted on the recommendations of the Kansas Report on the deficiencies of NAPI operations, which gave the Bush Administration the justification for reducing funding for NAPI by 50 percent, which threatens the future expansion of NAPI and Navajo water rights.

All of the above, speaks of the leadership or the lack thereof of the Navajo Nation the past 20 years. The Navajo voters have been electing leaders on the basis of promises, not on the basis of experience and vision. For the past 20 years, the Navajo people have been fighting among themselves and allowing their adversaries to get away with those that rightfully belong to them and their children.

Daniel Peaches

Kayenta, Ariz.

Opposes means testing drugs

While there is optimism over the prospect of the passage of a Medicare prescription drug bill, small print in the current House bill could result in changes that would undermine Medicare even as we seek to improve it. One item is a proposal to means test the new drug benefit, meaning that the benefit you get would depend on your annual income. This approach may seem to be a good way of helping Medicare, but on closer inspection, it would be inequitable.

First, Medicare is a social insurance program. Like Social Security, people pay into it all their working lives and have earned a benefit upon retirement. Varying the level of insurance protection based on income doesn’t make sense. Medicare beneficiaries should be able to depend on Medicare’s stable protection, which should not vary every time your income does.

Second, since there is no ceiling on how much a worker pays into Medicare each year, wealthier Americans pay more in payroll taxes into the system over their working lives. Medicare also gets a share of income taxes. Those who have more, pay more into the system. This extends into retirement. Medicare beneficiaries who earn above a certain level are also taxed on a portion of their Social Security; and this portion goes directly to Medicare.

Third, workplace health plans are generally available to all employees, not just those with low incomes. In fact, I don’t know of any other public or private health insurance plan—including the plan that covers members of Congress—that apportions benefits based on income. Why treat retirees differently from employees?

Finally, means testing would give the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as your plan administrator, access to your tax return information. This would require a new administrative structure and appeals process. Do we really need to expand the federal bureaucracy and erode our personal privacy in the name of saving Medicare?

While we applaud Congress for finally taking us to the brink of a meaningful prescription drug benefit, we must not undermine the fundamental strength of Medicare by subjecting this coverage to means testing.

Curtis Cook

AARP Interim State Director

Phoenix, Ariz.

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