S. 1879 (Barrasso, R-WY), the “Interior Improvement Act” seeks to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.  On February 24, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Carcieri decision, which struck down the Secretary of Interior’s ability to take land into trust on behalf of tribes that were not federally recognized at the time the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 went into effect.

RCRC believed the pre-Carcieri system of fee-to-trust regulations was insufficient and inappropriately implemented.  The Carcieri decision offered an opportunity to create a fee-to-trust system that creates a practical process by which counties have a seat at the decision-making table.  RCRC has long–advocated that a “quick fix” bill to effectively overturn the Carcieri decision (i.e., eliminate the pre-1934 requirement) without additional changes will cement counties’ position of having no voice and no input on major land use changes in their communities. 

While S. 1879 does attempt to address several of the issues counties have urged Congress to include in a new fee-to-trust system such as ensuring a local government voice, mitigation, and clarifying timeframes for responses, RCRC believes that the bill does not turn those concepts into working statutory language that would protect counties. S. 1879 adds several negative elements that are not included in the pre-Carcieri system such as limiting access to judicial review for certain parties and defining “jurisdiction” in a way that makes counties ineligible to comment on certain trust applications that make S. 1879 an incomplete fix, at best, for counties.  RCRC has been actively engaged in advocating for amendments to the bill which strengthen and improve the position of counties in the fee-to-trust system process.

Staff: Paul A. Smith