Obama seeks benefits for all gay couples

Washington Post
President Barack Obama signaled Thursday that his administration would extend federal benefits to gay couples living in states that don’t recognize their marriages, a relief for advocates left with a thicket of uncertainty a day after their historic Supreme Court victory.

The president said the government should define marriage based on where a couple weds and not necessarily where they live – a definition of wedlock that’s essential to how the administration will implement the court’s decision Wednesday to strike a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“It’s my personal belief – but I’m speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer – that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple,” Obama told reporters at a news conference in Dakar, Senegal, on a trip to sub-Saharan Africa.

The president called the ruling a “victory for American democracy” and said he has directed his administration to “comb through every statute” to ensure that gay couples receive federal benefits for which they are now eligible.

The task is already proving daunting.

As jubilant same-sex couples scrambled to call attorneys and agencies and scour the Internet about new rights, officials across the government continued reviewing the 1,110 federal rights, benefits and obligations that marriage confers.

They range from Social Security and pension benefits to green cards for spouses who are not citizens. All but two are regulations the administration can change without congressional action. Social Security and veterans’ benefits are the two exceptions that may require Congress to make the legal changes to ensure that married same-sex couples get the benefits of those programs.

A White House official said the process will take time, but benefits for same-sex couples will come on a rolling basis.

But since the court stopped short of ruling that the right to marry must be extended to same-sex couples no matter where they live, state lines still determine who is legally married and who is not. And that’s where much is left for the Obama administration to interpret – and opponents of same-sex marriage to contest.

Thirty-seven states do not allow same-sex unions. Virtually every federal agency has a different standard for how it defines marriage, whether based on the place a couple weds or where they live. Some agencies do not address either definition, such as the Office of Personnel Management, which makes policy on benefits for 2 million federal employees.

The federal employee retirement law, for example, defines a marriage for retirement benefit purposes as one recognized in the jurisdiction “with the most significant interest in the marital status” of the individual, unless that law is contrary to federal policy, according to the Congressional Research Service.

A decision on which state has the “most significant interest” likely would take into account where the employee lived while working and during retirement, and where the person eventually died. Also taken into consideration would be where the couple had financial assets and where the surviving spouse lives, personnel experts say.

Some issues are more clear-cut. For example, once the ruling takes effect, a legally married gay spouse who is not a citizen should be permitted to apply for a green card in any state. Under immigration law, the rules of a state where a wedding occurs takes precedence.

But most others are not.

“You could have federal employees in D.C. getting all the benefits of marriage,” said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. “Legally, across the river in Arlington ⅛County in Virginia€, they would not get them.”

Sainz called the president’s comments Thursday an “incredibly encouraging” sign to resolving the murkiness.

“We are literally sitting on pins and needles waiting on guidance from the administration on how the court’s decision will be put into practice.”

As with immigration, the Pentagon defines marriage based on the place of celebration. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military will extend to same-sex couples medical and dental care, access to base housing and commissaries and other benefits, including the right to a burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

But for Defense Department civilians, who are covered by OPM’s murkier definition of marriage, these benefits are not as cut-and-dried.

Hagel said there is no estimate yet on how much it will cost to make the changes mandated by the ruling. “But make no mistake, it will be implemented in its entirety,” he told reporters.

Defense officials said they have launched an effort to update systems for issuing identification cards for same-sex spouses, but estimate that it will take six to 12 weeks to complete.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, said some same-sex military couples now in domestic partnerships are planning to travel to states where gay marriage is legal and get married to qualify for benefits.

Shannon Simpson, who married Army 1st Lt. Ellen Schick at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in November, said the couple are already examining what steps they will need to take to get access to the same benefits provided opposite-sex couples.

“We were looking at some of that material last night, trying to figure out what kind of paperwork I’ll have to file,” said Simpson, 26.

Simpson, who lives off-post with her spouse, will also have access to the Keller Army Community Hospital on the West Point campus where Schick, a registered nurse, is assigned.

“There’ve been times I’ve gotten ill and we’ve had to drive 45 minutes over a mountain to get to an urgent-care clinic, and thinking the whole time that this is ridiculous that we can’t drive five minutes to the hospital where she works,” Simpson said.

Questions remain about how the Supreme Court decision will affect taxes and tax filings for same-sex couples. Currently, federal law treats them differently depending upon whether their states recognize same-sex marriage and whether the couple owns property.

“We had to find special accountants who knew how to do it,” said California resident Karen Golinski, a federal attorney. “I don’t think most people understand how difficult life can be when the law doesn’t treat you the same as everyone else.”

Suzanne Artis, who lives in Connecticut with her same-sex spouse, said the ruling “feels a little unfinished.”

“The result was great, but I’m looking forward to closure – complete closure.”

Some conservative leaders who oppose the court’s ruling said Thursday that Obama may be treading on shaky legal ground by redefining marriage in states that have made it clear they do not support gay marriage.

“We would support a narrower interpretation that would only apply to the state of domicile,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow at the Family Research Council, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of DOMA.

“If we now say the same-sex couples will be recognized as married even where states don’t allow it, you would have inconsistent benefits,” he said. “You would have to file two tax returns, federal and state, according to different laws.”

Sprigg acknowledged that a legal challenge if the federal government extends benefits to states that don’t recognize gay marriage could be tricky:

“The challenge would be to figure out who suffers harm from that recognition,” he said.

Story tags »  • FederalTaxesGay marriage

The biggest oversight in Obama’s climate plan — and it’s a doozy

By David Roberts, Grist

I’ve mostly been offering modest praise for Obama’s climate plan, but there are some notable oversights. While it addresses U.S. coal-fired plants through EPA regulations, it neglects another, equally large aspect of the coal problem. Specifically, I’m talking about coal mining, leasing, transport, and export in the U.S. Northwest. There’s a bad situation there and it’s getting worse.

The Powder River Basin stretches across southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming. It is rich with high-sulfur (dirty) coal. Most of that coal is on public land, owned by you and me. What you and I are doing at the moment, via the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior, is leasing the mineral rights on those public lands to coal companies for pennies on the dollar.

Domestic demand for coal is declining (and will decline further once EPA regulations are in place), so what these coal companies want to do is start shipping the coal by rail to the West Coast and from there exporting it to China and other coal-hungry developing countries, where it sells for prices up to seven times higher than in the U.S.

It’s a sweet deal for the coal companies: buy low, sell high. But it’s a raw deal for everyone else and a disaster for the climate.

Joe Smyth has a great post about the rotten coal-leasing program here, and I wrote about the push for coal-export terminals here. There’s lots of background in those posts if you want it. In this post, I’ll mostly focus on the topic at hand, which is what Obama can and should do about it.

First, the coal-leasing program. A recent report from the Inspector General at Interior revealed that the program is (or rather, remains, after decades of corruption [PDF]) terribly run, with spotty enforcement, very little competitive bidding, disregard of rising exports, and prices that fall well below going market rates. Overall, writes The New York Times, the program’s failures “deprived taxpayers of almost $30 billion over the previous 30 years.”

The BLM says it has a “task force” looking into it, for whatever that’s worth. Obama should make it a priority to finally clean up that cesspool.

But he should go farther than that. The problem is not just that the public is leasing coal at below-market rates, it’s that market rates are too low. Coal markets do not currently internalize the costs imposed by carbon pollution (the “social cost of carbon”). Obama should insist that the social cost of carbon be integrated into the leasing program. That would more fairly balance the public’s interest in revenue from leases with its interest in a livable climate. Such a move would substantially reduce the the amount of coal leased on public land — as it should.

Second, coal exports. “Turning Cascadia into a conveyor belt for coal,” as KC Golden puts it, flies in the face of the region’s character as a nature-rich tourist destination and as a high-skill, high-tech hub. Dozens of new coal trains a day would thunder through the region’s small towns (and my beloved Seattle as well), making noise, clogging traffic, and spewing toxic dust. The coal would then be loaded on to giant, polluting ships in giant, polluting ports, turning the bucolic coastal towns where they are located into loud, dirty industrial hubs. All to ship coal the American public got scammed out of to China, where it will be burned and accelerate climate change.

It’s insane. And it’s running into resistance that may prove fatal. Three of the six proposed coal export terminals have been scrapped and the others face serious problems. Delay alone could kill the remaining ports, as there are signs that China’s demand for coal may fall short of expectations. News of slowing Chinese growth is part of what sent coal stocks tumbling the other day.

What’s needed is a comprehensive environmental assessment of the whole network of coal leases, trains, and ports, an assessment that includes the effects on carbon emissions. (Preliminary analysis shows that — shocker — exporting the coal would raise carbon emissions [PDF].) Only the feds can do that kind of analysis. The governors of both Washington and Oregon have asked the feds for one, as have mayors, members of Congress, and activists. But just the other day, the Army Corps of Engineers refused (again). That’s Obama’s corps. He should kick their asses into gear and get a comprehensive assessment underway.

Remember what Obama said about Keystone: “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” How does turning over one of the world’s biggest dirty coal fields to private companies for cheap not exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution?

Of course it does. Digging up and burning that Powder River Basin coal will put enough carbon in the atmosphere to undo all of Obama’s other climate work.

If Obama really believes, as he proclaimed on Tuesday, that increasing climate pollution is not in the nation’s interests, then he needs to get serious about stopping coal leasing and coal exports in the Northwest.

Biomass energy: The bad apple in Obama’s renewable energy barrel

Source: Partnership for Policy Integrity

At last, President Obama has tackled climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a major speech.  Recognizing that power plants are a huge source of unchecked CO2, the President is directing EPA to complete CO2 emission standards for new and existing power plants. Given that reducing emissions will require replacing a significant amount of fossil-fueled power generation with carbon neutral renewable power, clean energy advocates wonder what the Administration’s plans mean for biomass energy, the combustion of biological materials in power plants, instead of fossil fuels.

We already know what EPA is considering as a standard for new fossil fueled power plants – 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (MWh), a standard that is difficult if not impossible for a coal plant to meet.  What about biomass energy? Start with the simple fact that a biomass power plant emits about 3,000 lb of CO2 per MWh, far more than even a coal plant.  Beyond that, the biomass power plants being built in the US are primarily wood-burners, with a typical 50 MW facility (tiny by coal plant standards) burning the equivalent of millions of trees  per year. Cutting forests for fuel degrades forest carbon uptake, and transporting wood fuel takes hundreds of trucks per week, driven thousands of miles, belching more CO2 and pollution.  Claims that stack emissions from burning biomass don’t matter – that the CO2 is eventually neutralized by forest regrowth, or that “waste” wood burned as fuel would  have eventually decomposed and emitted the CO2 anyway – are nothing more than assumptions, and unrealistic ones at that, considering that last summer the US got a taste of the climate-to-come, experiencing record-breaking temperatures, extreme weather events and massive forest fires.

Even under the best case scenario, where forests are left alone to regrow for decades after being cut for biomass fuel, current modeling and science shows that it takes several decades to neutralize the extra CO2 emitted a biomass power plant. No serious climate scientist believes we can afford to wait decades to reduce emissions, and no serious policy-maker should promote investing billions of dollars into biomass energy infrastructure, with its deferred and hypothetical benefits of carbon reductions that are decades off, alongside wind and solar, where the reduction in CO2 emissions occurs right away.

Massachusetts recognized that biomass power plants increase emissions instead of reducing them, and took low-efficiency biomass energy out of the State’s renewable portfolio. The fact that wood-burning power plants are still considered “renewable” energy sources in the rest of the country is a testimony to the biomass industry’s lobbying clout. With CO2 emissions standards for power plants finally on the Administration’s radar, however, claims that biomass energy benefits the climate may finally bump up against reality.

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Environmentalists demand new climate analysis for Keystone XL

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

Just a day before President Obama announced he would only approve theKeystone XL pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem,” six environmental groups quietly lodged a protest with the State Department charging it would do exactly that.

The 48-page letter obtained by The Washington Post demands the State Department, which has jurisdiction over the pipeline permit, prepare a new supplemental environmental impact statement to take into account several new analyses that they say prove the project will speed heavy crude extraction in Canada’s oil sands region.

The State Department is currently responding to more than 1.2 million comments on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement it issued March 1, which it plans to finalize this fall. In that document, the department suggested denial of TransCanada’s permit would have little overall climate impact because the oil would be extracted and shipped out anyway, largely by rail.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the U.S.,” the draft assessment reads. “Limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported via other modes of transportation, such as rail which would probably (but not certainly) be more expensive.”

By contrast, the six advocacy groups–Bold Nebraska, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, and the Sierra Club–said recent evidence does not support this conclusion.

“Since the close of the comment period, evidence of inaccuracies and bias in the State Department’s review of Keystone XL has been steadily mounting,” says Doug Hayes, a Sierra Club attorney. “This new information demonstrates that the review relies on an overly-simplistic, outdated view of a rapidly-changing oil market.”

They cite several reasons for redoing the assessment’s climate analysis, including a Goldman Sachs report that questions the extent to which rail shipments can replace a pipeline slated to transport 830,000 barrels of crude per day; the Royal Bank of Canada’s estimate that denying the project would jeopardize $9.4 billion in oil sands development; and the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency filed comments in April suggesting the State Department downplayed the amount of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the project’s construction. EPA estimated the pipeline’s annual climate impact–taking into account the carbon intensity of Alberta’s oil compared to average crude oil–would be 18.7 million metric tons of carbon from the time of extraction to the time it reaches gas stations.

The groups also call on State Department officials to take into account the higher “social cost of carbon” the administration is now using, which aims to capture the negative climate impact of activities that release carbon into the atmosphere. This month the Office of Management and Budget raised that figure by roughly 60 percent.

Will the State Department do a new assessment? That remains to be seen, since the department is in the midst of finalizing its environmental impact statement, and it did not respond immediately to a request for comment Thursday.

Obama’s Plan for the Climate: Greenwash Our Way into Oblivion

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

At 1:45 today, President Obama announced his new Climate Action Plan in a nationally televised speech.

He described the emerging climate crisis and its impacts–both past, present and future, while be suffered the heat of an abnormally warm June day in Washington, DC.  His arguments for climate action were compelling and hard to argue with.  Unfortunately his actions do not match his words.

Unlike Bill McKibben, I do not believe that “the solutions agenda [Obama has] begun to advance moves the country in a sane direction.” (Did you read the actual Climate Action Plan, Bill?!?)   No, what I read in Obama’s Action Plan was a rehashing of the same old dangerous false solutions that many of us have been fighting for years and years.  But what’s really criminal is that even though Obama clearly understands both the science and implications of climate change, he still pushes an agenda that will drive us all over the climate cliff.

First the plan’s “Case for Action” reiterates Obama’s pledge to decrease carbon emissions by a paltry 17% below 2005 levels by 2020–but only if all other major economies agree to do so as well.  Climate scientists are not calling for 17% reductions by 2020.  In fact, countries like the US need to reduce our emissions by 80-90%.  And not in seven years, but immediately.  Last year preferably.

The main takeaway from Obama’s horrific bit of greenwashed nonsense? We can continue our unsustainable way of life indefinitely with just a few key tweaks.

“Deploy clean energy.” Ain’t nothin’ clean about this.  Obama’s “clean energy” plan includes more fracking, more oil, more nukes, more biofuels and “clean coal.”  Yes, Obama wants to stop climate change by screwing over rural communities through promotion of more hydrofracking and increased natural gas exports; expanding domestic oil production–including the hellish Bakken shale oil fields (but don’t worry, it will be clean Bakken oil­–no really, that’s in there); devoting more land to growing feedstocks for plant-based liquid fuels (i.e. less land for biodiversity, growing food or for peasant communities to survive on); protecting forests that store carbon while cutting down trees to burn for electricity production; building more nuclear power plants (apparently never heard of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima); and maintaining the fantasy of that wonderful oxymoron “clean coal.” Sane direction?

Spur Investment in Advanced Fossil Energy Projects.  Like “clean” coal, we can burn our fossil fuels and stop climate change too!

Maintain Agricultural Sustainability. For this one, Obama wants us to trust the vehemently pro-GMO US Department of Agriculture to “deliver tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.”  ‘Climate ready’ GMO crops anyone?

Negotiate Global Free Trade in Environmental Goods and Services.  Right, cuz global free trade has served biodiversity, ecosystems and the 99% so well!

But the most ludicrous item is the last on the menu: “Leading efforts to address climate change through international negotiations.”  (I know, I know, stop laughing)

This section excels in its newspeak.  It highlights the disastrous 2009 UN Copenhagen Climate Conference as “historic progress,” and insists that the secretly negotiated Copenhagen Accord (that was booed even by reporters when Obama announced it late in the negotiations) was a breakthrough in developing “a new regime of international transparency.”  Omitted is the fact that this Accord was never actually consensed upon, but merely “noted” by the official body.  Well history is “his story” after all…

The section goes on to trumpet the accomplishments of the equally disastrous UN Climate Conference in Durban in 2011–about which Nature Magazine wrote “It is clear that the science of climate change and the politics of climate change, now inhabit parallel worlds.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International similarly condemned Durban’s outcomes, “developed countries, led by the US, accelerated the demolition of the world’s international framework for fair and urgent climate action.  And developing countries have been bullied and forced into accepting an agreement that could be a suicide pill for the world.  An increase in global temperatures of four degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, small island states, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide.  This summit has amplified climate apartheid whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.”

But Obama’s Climate Action Plan insists Durban was “a breakthrough”–because countries agreed to come up with some kind of new climate agreement that would not go into force until 2020.

Gee, guess who won’t be in office anymore in 2020…

Nobel Peace Laureates Urge Obama and Kerry to Nix Keystone XL

Facebook/Nobel Women's InitiativeFounding members of the Nobel Women's Initiative, six of the 10 Peace Prize laureates who signed a letter on June 17 urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
Facebook/Nobel Women’s Initiative
Founding members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, six of the 10 Peace Prize laureates who signed a letter on June 17 urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Indian Country Today Media Network

Firmly linking the Keystone XL pipeline with climate change, 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners are urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the project.

“Climate change threatens all of us, but it is the world’s most vulnerable who are already paying for developed countries’ failure to act with their lives and livelihoods,” wrote the Nobel laureates in a June 17 letter to Obama and Kerry. “This will only become more tragic as impacts become worse and conflicts are exacerbated as precious natural resources, like water and food, become more and more scarce. Inaction will cost hundreds of millions of lives—and the death toll will only continue to rise.”

Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala, who was awarded the peace prize in 1992, was among the signers. Besides Menchú, the letter was signed by Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams, both of Ireland, who won in 1976; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, 1984; Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, 1980, Argentina; José Ramos Horta, East Timor, 1996; Jody Williams, United States, 1997; Shirin Ebadi, Iran, 2003; Tawakkol Karman, Yemen, 2011, and Leymah Gbowee, Liberia (2011).

This was the second time Nobel laureates had appealed to the President about Keystone XL. In September 2011, nine honorees signed a similar letter, including Menchú, Maguire, Williams, Tutu, Esquivel, Ramos Horta, Williams and Ebadi. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also signed the earlier letter. Last week’s letter was dated the same day that the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, told the Associated Press it is a “very important decision.”

Just a few days earlier, former Vice President Al Gore, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his anti–climate change activism, had called Keystone XL “an atrocity” in an interview with the Guardian. He said Obama would do well to focus his energy instead on a comprehensive climate change plan.

“This whole project [Keystone XL] is an atrocity but it is even more important for him to regulate carbon dioxide emissions,” Gore told the British newspaper, adding that curtailing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants would go far in counteracting global warming.

Gore’s sentiments were in line with those expressed in the letter to Obama, though he was not among the signers. Contending that turning down Keystone XL would curtail or limit development in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, the Nobel laureates, too, urged the Obama Administration to take a global lead on combating climate change and spearheading the movement away from fossil fuels. Many of the signees belong to the Nobel Women’s Initiative, established in 2006 by six of the 15 women who have received the Nobel Peace Prize in the 110 years it has been awarded.

“Like millions of others, we were buoyed by words in the President’s second inaugural address: ‘We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,’ ” the letter stated. “Mr. President and Secretary Kerry, this is an opportunity to begin to fulfill that promise. While there is no one policy or action that will avoid dangerous climate change, saying ‘no’ to the Keystone XL pipeline is a critical step in the right direction. Now is the time for unwavering leadership.”

These assertions about oil sands development directly contradicted the findings outlined in the State Department’s preliminary environmental assessment report, released in March, that said Keystone XL would produce negligible effects both on climate change and oil sands development. (Related: State Department Draft Environmental Report Says Keystone XL Effects on Both Climate Change and Oil Supply Would Be Minimal)

The Keystone XL pipeline would wend its way from Canada to the Gulf coast of the United States bringing up to 800,000 of viscous crude along 1,700 miles. It would cost about $7 billion to build. Though supporters say it would create jobs, the State Department report also said that the overall economic impact would be negligible. (Related: Exaggerated Consultation Claims, Factual Errors in State Department’s Keystone XL Environment Report Rankle Natives)


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/18/nobel-peace-laureates-urge-obama-and-kerry-nix-keystone-xl-149978

Obama Signs Revised Stolen Valor Act Into Law, Veterans Groups Applaud

Indian Country Today Media Network

It’s again a federal crime for people to lie about having received military decorations or medals.

President Obama signed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 into law yesterday, June 3. The bill, sponsored by Representative Joseph Heck (R-Nevada), passed both the House and the Senate with overwhelming majorities (390-3 in the House, unanimous consent in the Senate) and was sent to the president on May 28.

Heck’s bill revised a broader 2005 version, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012. SCOTUS ruled that the First Amendment protected a person who lied about being a military hero, unless that person did so with intent to fradulently gain from the deceit. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 addressed that, including a provision that makes it illegal to make those claims to obtain money, property or other tangible benefits.

“I’m pleased that the valor and integrity of our military awards, along with the men and women who have earned them, are once again protected by law. Today’s bill signing marks the end of a process that began with a meeting of my local veterans advisory panel and has ended at the White House. It has been an incredibly rewarding process and I thank all of those who have helped along the way in making this bill a law,” Rep. Heck said in a press release.

“While the Stolen Valor Act has reached the end of the process, I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of those men and women who have worn the uniform and made great sacrifices to keep our nation safe.”

Veterans organizations are pleased that both Congress and the president acted quickly to produce this new law.

“I think this was necessary because people were using it to receive the benefits of decorations of valor, and they were getting monetary benefit from it,”John Stovall, director of national security and foreign relations for the American Legion told Military.com. “That’s why we supported the amended version, not to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights but to protect the reputation and meaning of the decorations.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/04/obama-signs-revised-stolen-valor-act-law-veterans-groups-applaud-149698

President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Indian Affairs Budget Focuses on Strengthening and Supporting Tribal Nations

Request supports Indian Affairs’ mission to serve federally recognized tribes and individual Indian trust beneficiaries

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request for Indian Affairs, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), is $2.6 billion – a $31.3 million increase above the FY 2012 enacted level. The proposed budget maintains the President’s commitment to meeting the government’s responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, while exercising fiscal responsibility and improving government operations and efficiency.

“The President’s budget request for Indian Affairs reflects his firm commitment to keeping our focus on strengthening and supporting tribal nations, and protecting Indian Country,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn. “While realizing the benefits from improvements to Indian Affairs program management, the request supports our mission to federally recognized tribes, particularly in the areas of trust lands and natural resource protection. The request also promotes economic development, improves education, and strengthens law enforcement and justice administration.”

Strengthening Tribal Nations Initiative

The Strengthening Tribal Nations Initiative is a comprehensive, multi-year effort to advance the President’s commitments to American Indians and Alaska Natives to improve conditions throughout Indian Country and foster economic opportunities on Indian reservations.

The FY 2014 budget request includes $120 million in increases for this initiative to support sustainable stewardship and development of natural resources in Indian Country, public safety programs that apply lessons learned from successful law enforcement pilot programs, operations at new and expanded detention facilities, contract support costs to facilitate tribal self- governance, and new and expanded payments for water rights settlements. Additionally, it

provides increased funding for post-secondary education and an elementary and secondary school pilot program based on the U.S. Department of Education’s turnaround schools model and concepts.

Advancing Nation-to-Nation Relationships

The FY 2014 budget request for Contract Support Costs is $231 million – a $9.8 million increase over the FY 2012 enacted level. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, as amended, allows federally recognized tribes to operate federally funded programs themselves under contract with the United States – an expression of the federal government’s policy to support tribal self-determination and self-governance. Tribes rely on contract support costs funds to pay the costs of administering and managing contracted programs. It is a top priority for many tribes.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter, the FY 2014 budget request includes the Administration’s proposed interim solution to budgeting contract support costs. The Administration proposes Congress appropriate contract support costs on a contract by contract basis and will provide Congress with a contract funding table for incorporation into the Department’s FY 2014 appropriations legislation. Through tribal consultation, this interim step will lead to a long-term solution that will result in a simpler and more streamlined contract support costs process.

Protecting Indian Country

The FY 2014 budget request for BIA Public Safety and Justice programs is $363.4 million with targeted increases over the 2012 enacted level of $5.5 million for Law Enforcement Operations, $13.4 million for Detention Center Operations and $1.0 million for Tribal Courts.

The request also includes a $3.0 million programmatic increase in BIA Human Services to address domestic violence in tribal communities. A partnership between BIA Human Services and Law Enforcement will address the needs at tribal locations with high levels of domestic violence. The initiative will improve teamwork between law enforcement and social services to more rapidly address instances of domestic violence, and expand services that help stem domestic violence in Indian Country and care for its victims.

The FY 2014 budget request for Law Enforcement Operations is $199.7 million, a $5.5 million programmatic increase over the FY 2012 enacted level. The increased funding for Criminal Investigations and Police Services will enable the BIA to hire additional bureau and tribal law enforcement personnel. The request includes $96.9 million for Detention Center Operations, a program increase of $13.4 million over the FY 2012 enacted level. The additional funding for staffing, training and equipment will strengthen BIA and tribal capacity to operate existing and newly constructed detention facilities.

The request also includes $24.4 million for Tribal Courts, an increase of $1.0 million above the 2012 enacted level. The funding will be used for judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court

clerks, probation officers, juvenile officers, and support staff, as well as for training and related operations and administrative costs for tribal justice systems and Courts of Indian Offenses.

The FY 2014 budget request also supports the BIA’s successful pilot program, launched in 2010, that carries out the President’s Priority Goal of reducing violent crimes by at least five percent within 24 months on four initial reservations. The targeted, intense community safety program successfully reduced violent crime by an average of 35 percent across the four reservations. In 2012, the program was extended to two additional reservations. After a year, the two new sites have experienced an increase in reported crime – a trend similar to that seen at the initial four sites. The BIA will continue to support the efforts of all six programs in 2014 with funding, technical assistance, monitoring and feedback.

Improving Trust Land Management

Taking land into trust is one of the most important functions the Department undertakes on behalf of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, whose homelands are essential to their peoples’ health, safety and economic well-being. The BIA’s trust programs assist tribes and individual Indian landowners in the management, development and protection of trust lands and natural resource assets totaling about 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface mineral estates.

In 2012 and 2013, the Department undertook the most substantial overhaul of the federal fee-to- trust process in over half a century. In 2012, Interior placed 37,971 acres of land into trust on behalf of tribes and individual Indians and approved 299 fee-to-trust applications. Over the past four years, Indian Affairs has processed more than 1,000 separate applications and acquired over 196,600 acres of land in trust.

The FY 2014 budget request for the Trust – Natural Resources Management program, which assists tribes in managing, developing and protecting their trust lands and natural resources, is $189.2 million, a programmatic increase of $34.4 million over the FY 2012 enacted level. The increases support sustainable stewardship and development of natural resources and will support resource management and decision making in the areas of energy and minerals, climate, oceans, water, rights protection, and endangered and invasive species.

The FY 2014 budget request for Trust – Real Estate Services is $128.9 million, a programmatic increase of $7.7 million increase over the FY 2012 enacted level. This program carries out the BIA’s trust services, probate, and land titles and records functions, as well incorporates the Department’s trust reform improvement efforts. The request proposes a $5.5 million increase to fund authorized activities related to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement at $7.0 million and provides $1.5 million for litigation support for Indian natural resource trust assets management.

Advancing Indian Education

The FY 2014 budget request for the Bureau of Indian Education of $802.8 million, a program increase of $6.7 million above the FY 2012 enacted level, advances the Department’s continuing

commitment to the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives from the federally recognized tribes. The Advancing Indian Education initiative addresses the full spectrum of educational needs throughout Indian Country from elementary through post secondary levels and adult education. The 2014 budget supports student academic achievement in BIE schools by initiating a $15.0 million pilot program to turnaround lower performing elementary and secondary schools, provides $2.5 million in increased funding to meet the needs of growing enrollment at tribal colleges, and provides $3.0 million in new funding for a Science Post- Graduate Scholarship Fund. The budget also proposes an additional $2.0 million for tribal grant support costs.

Achieving Better Results at a Lower Cost

Administrative Cost Savings Over the last few years, Indian Affairs has taken significant steps to reduce the administrative costs associated with the wide range of services it delivers. In addition to $7.1 million in cost-saving measures from information technology standardization and infrastructure consolidations, the FY 2014 budget request includes a reduction of $19.7 million to reflect anticipated cost savings from streamlining operations. The request also includes $13.8 million in savings from reductions to contracts, fleet management, awards, and travel.

Indian Arts and Crafts Board The budget proposes to transfer the $1.3 million funding for the IACB from the Office of the Secretary to Indian Affairs, thereby allowing Indian Affairs to oversee the implementation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, as amended, which contains both criminal and civil provisions to combat counterfeit activity in the American Indian and Alaska Native arts and crafts market, and the Board’s management of three museums in the Plains Region dedicated to the promotion, integrity and preservation of authentic American Indian art and culture.

Program Reductions and Eliminations:

  • Housing Improvement Program (-$12.6 million) Eliminates the HIP. Tribes are not precluded from using HUD funding to provide assistance to HIP applicants.
  • Law Enforcement Special Initiatives (-$2.6 million) Reflects decreased participation on collaborative activities such as intelligence sharing.
  • The Indian Student Equalization Program (ISEP) (-$16.5 million) Offsets $15.0 million for a turnaround school pilot program.
  • Replacement School Construction (-$17.8 million) The construction program will address improving physical conditions of existing school facilities through the Facilities Improvement and Repair program.
  • The Indian Guaranteed Loan Program (-$2.1 million) The funding level of $5.0 million will guarantee over $70 million in loans.

    Indian Affairs’ responsibility to the federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes is rooted in Article I, Section 8, of the United States Constitution, as well as in treaties, executive orders, and federal law. It is responsible for the management, development and protection of Indian trust land and natural resources, providing for public safety and justice in Indian Country, and promoting tribal self-determination and self-governance. Through the

Bureau of Indian Education, it funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools, of which two-thirds are tribally operated, located on 64 reservations in 23 states and serving in School Year 2011-2012 a daily average attendance of 41,000 students. It also provides funding to 27 tribal colleges and universities and two tribal technical colleges, operates two post- secondary institutions of higher learning and provides higher education scholarships.