On November 28, 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk announced the beginning of a major reform of federal surface leasing regulations for American Indian Lands.  The Department of the Interior, as trustee responsible for managing approximately 56 million surface acres in Indian Country, currently processes requests for land leases and subleases without a defined process or deadline for review.  Attempts to engage in lease or mortgage transactions can languish for years. The proposed rule, which was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, November 30th, was designed in response to scheme changes requested by tribal leaders, and is intended to remove what has become a federal roadblock to economic and renewable energy development on Indian lands.

The proposed rule reform sets out specific processes for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) review of leases and subleases, and for the first time, includes enforceable deadlines.  For commercial and industrial development projects, the BIA has sixty days to review leases and subleases.  If the BIA does not complete review within sixty days, the agreement will automatically be allowed.  Further, under the new rule the BIA will be required to approve the leases unless it finds a compelling reason to disapprove.

For a copy of the proposed rule, click here.