Interior’s Badger-Two Med decision troubling

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In a disconcerting twist to the long-disputed battle over energy rights on the Badger-Two Medicine area, the federal government last week dropped its appeal of one of two oil and gas drilling leases on the land bordering Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Reservation.

The Interior is dismissing its appeal against Moncrief Oil, but is pursuing its appeal against Solenex LLC. The announcement essentially walks back the Interior’s commitment to protect from drilling the land considered sacred to the Blackfeet Nation.

It was only a few months ago that former Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke said it would be wholly inappropriate to allow drilling on the Badger-Two Medicine. Zinke had asked the government to appeal a ruling last year that reinstated the two leases, which had been canceled under the Obama administration.

“I have tremendous respect for the Blackfeet Nation and strongly believe resource development in these most sacred of lands would be inappropriate,” Zinke said at the time.

But now the Interior is under the direction of Acting Sec. David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted last week to approve Bernhardt’s appointment, and the full Senate will next vote to finalize his appointment.

We’re perplexed by the Interior’s about-face on withdrawing its appeal of the Moncrief lease. When asked by the Associated Press for the Interior’s motivation, the department declined to comment.

Blackfeet tribal officials and intervenors in the case are rightfully disappointed with the Interior for scaling back its efforts to protect the land.

“Unfortunately, [Interior’s] court filings do not defend the Badger-Two Medicine against all threats,” Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Timothy Davis said in a press release.

Davis points out that since the early 1980s, “nearly all leaseholders have voluntarily relinquished their holdings, saying it is ‘the right thing to do.’

“The explicit promise of the U.S. government to the Blackfeet people … has been broken.”

But the tribe remains steadfast in its efforts to protect the land, and negotiations are already underway with Moncrief. In the proposed deal, the tribe is willing to give up tracts on the reservation to drill if the company agrees to relinquish its Badger-Two Medicine lease.

With or without the Interior, the Blackfeet Nation remains hopeful a long-term solution can be reached.

“Our culture has been rooted in these lands since time immemorial, and we are confident that the Badger-Two Medicine will be permanently protected.”

The tribe’s resiliency is to be admired, and we too remain hopeful that the spiritual and natural values of this land will be protected.

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