Navajo president urges Interior to deliver letter that will lead to a better Navajo future
WASHINGTON – Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren has again politely but firmly asked the Department of Interior to provide a letter that would support the Navajo Nation to participate in California’s carbon offsets program.
Last week while in Washington, D.C., President Nygren requested for a letter again, originally made in January, to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland.
A formal follow-up was restated in February during the President’s trip for the State of the Union address.
The Navajo Nation has sought ways to participate in the carbon offset program since 2018. The program is designed to reduce some of the negative impacts related to excess amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere.
The California Air Resource Board, or CARB, issues “carbon offset credits” to qualifying projects that reduce the amount of carbon produced in a year.
California’s cap-and-trade program allows covered emitters to use carbon offsets to satisfy part of their compliance obligations. This includes the maintenance of heathy forests which is how the Navajo Nation would participate.
The existing Navajo forest management plan qualifies, but CARB requires all projects on Indian land include a letter of determination from the BIA. The letter would state the project is approved or an approval is not required.
Until a determination letter is issued, the Navajo Nation cannot move its application forward which would cause the Nation to lose out on additional revenue.
Carbon offset programs allow participating projects to earn offset credits for voluntary climate mitigation efforts. In this case, the Navajo Nation would get millions of dollars by California to not log its forests which would offset CO2 emissions in California.
Another topic discussed with Interior included challenges the Nation has experienced with obtaining a rental determination for the Hopi Partitioned Land, or HPL. President Nygren sought clarification from the Interior the annual rent payments the Navajo Nation makes to the Hopi tribe. The payments are on behalf of Navajos residing on and using areas within HPL.
The payments are made under the Navajo Hopi Settlement Act. According to a 2009 federal district court order, the Nation must pay 6% interest on any unpaid HPL rents. The rental rate is set by the Interior. The time the rate was set was in 2014.
In practice, the Navajo Nation makes estimated payments in the hope they pay enough to cover the full amount of the rent will be when the rate is finally determined by Interior. This is to avoid accruing further interest.
Currently, the Nation pays $140,000 every year and logs it with the district court each time a payment is made. However, there are growing concerns of the financial implications if the rental determination is larger than the payments the Nation has been making.
President Nygren met Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra during the HHS Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee, or STAC.
Tribal leaders from across the country advocated for greater equity and investment in tribal community health programs.
President Nygren provided remarks and expressed concerns on the future of the Special Diabetes Program Initiative which has faced high uncertainty because of changes in tribal eligibility.
With the increased number of tribes participating in the programs and the lack of increased funding, there are serious concerns that individual tribal awards will be reduced because of the lack of available funding.
Additionally, the Indian Health Service is not obligated to make awards because the program is categorized as discretionary spending, not protected from appropriation.
President Nygren advocated to make the Special Diabetes Program Initiative a mandatory line item and be protected from sequestrations.
He further asked that the federal government ensure that it works with tribes to achieve health equity for tribal communities.
Secretary Becerra said it was his desire to ensure treaty and trust obligations to the Navajo Nation are upheld. He reminded constituents that President Biden’s budget is only a suggestion and, ultimately, Congress must pass the budget to fund Indian health programs.
The secretary said with more research into health impacts on Native people, including diabetes, cancer, and long-COVID, it will be important to collect data so tribes can know how these diseases affect tribal communities.
That will require participation by tribal members, he said. He asked tribes to help him build partnership with tribes to encourage research participation.
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Photos: (1) President Buu Nygren speaks with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra in Washington, D.C. (2) President Buu Nygren, left, along with Speaker of the 25tn Navajo Nation Council Crystalyne Curley, bottom center, meet with officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.