REGIONAL – Ely native and enrolled Bois Forte Band member Robert Anderson has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new chief legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Interior.Nominated for …
REGIONAL – Ely native and enrolled Bois Forte Band member Robert Anderson has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new chief legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Interior.
Nominated for the position of Solicitor in April by President Joe Biden, senators approved Anderson for the position on a 53-44 vote, split largely along partisan lines. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were Republicans who crossed the aisle to confirm the nomination.
Anderson, who has been serving as Principal Deputy Solicitor since the start of the Biden administration, sat before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for a hearing in May, at which time he came under intense scrutiny from Republican members of the committee. One point of contention was Anderson’s view regarding issuance of additional oil and gas leases, which he said is currently an open question subject to further consideration, and ranking member John Barasso of Wyoming called out Anderson for reversing numerous Solicitor’s opinions issued under the Trump administration.
The arguments were not enough to sway committee member Murkowski, whose affirmative vote accounted for the 11-9 decision to advance Anderson’s nomination to the full Senate.
As Solicitor, Anderson is the chief attorney for the Interior Department and legal adviser to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.
“Bob has extensive legal expertise with regard to Native American Tribes, public lands, and water— all of which will help advance Interior’s mission to steward America’s natural, cultural and historic resources and honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes in accordance with the spirit and letter of the law,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement issued in support of his nomination.
A leading national figure in Native American law, Anderson has written that tribes should have more influence in federal decisions, like the controversial permitting for the Dakota Access Pipeline, that affect their lands and people. Former President Barack Obama’s approval of construction for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which transports crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to Illinois, sparked protests over concerns that a spill would threaten the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and other areas near the proposed path.
“Tribal input into most projects affecting tribal lands and water is advisory only,” he wrote in a 2018 law review article. “The [Dakota Access Pipeline] experience shows the shortcomings in this approach and should serve as a springboard for changes in federal law… It is not enough to be consulted if the permitting agency is free to reject tribal input subject to deferential judicial review.”
A 1983 graduate of the University of Minnesota, Anderson began his career as a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, where he practiced law for 12 years. He was a law professor at the University of Washington for 20 years, directing its Native American Law Center. He has been the Oneida Indian Nation Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School for the past 12 years.
He is a co-author and editor of the leading federal Indian Law treatise, Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, and is a co-author of a leading textbook on American Indian Law. He has extensive expertise and has published many articles in the fields of natural resources law, water law, and American Indian law. Anderson also served as the Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs and counselor to the secretary under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
As Solicitor, Anderson will oversee the work of about 430 attorneys and additional staff working in six areas within the Interior Department.
Ely editor Keith Vandervort contributed to this report.
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