Lankford consults with area officials

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

U.S. Sen. James Lankford on April 4 spent a few hours in Pawhuska, conferring with local leaders about problems and opportunities in areas ranging from proposed federal regulation, to economic development, to the improvement of physical infrastructure.

Sen. Lankford told the Journal-Capital in a telephone interview that he had spoken to Osage tribal leaders, including members of the Osage Minerals Council, regarding a proposed regulatory update by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Minerals Council and the Osage Nation’s leadership are opposed to the proposed regulatory changes, and Lankford on April 4 also voiced opposition.

“That’s an issue that I’ve been pushing on for years,” Lankford said, voicing concern about federal interference with the development of energy resources in Osage County. He agreed with the criticism leveled at the proposed regulatory changes to the effect they are too complex.

“At this point, our first goal is to be able to engage with Interior and the BIA,” Lankford said, referring to the federal Department of the Interior as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Lankford said he thought the end of the formal comment period was an important moment at which to address regulators.

The end of the public comment period had been extended from March 17 to April 7.

The Osage Nation on Wednesday, April 5 issued a press release regarding the tribe's response to the BIA proposal. Here is a quoted passage from the ON press release about the official comment --

"On Monday, April 3, 2023, the Osage Nation Executive Branch and Attorney General’s Office submitted an official comment to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Proposed Rule: Mining of the Osage Mineral Estate for Oil and Gas 25 CFR 226. The comment is a formal rejection of the 71-page proposed rule document offering the following concern:

  1. The Osage Nation and the Osage Mineral Estate have unique histories and challenges that may not be properly addressed in the Proposed Rule.  
  2. The Proposed Rule’s length and complexity may discourage the development of the Osage Mineral Estate. 
  3. Any regulatory proposal affecting the Osage Nation and the Osage Mineral Estate should be guided by meaningful government-to-government consultation. 
  4. The Proposed Rule should promote Tribal sovereignty."

Mike McCartney, executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal-Capital that a key concern passed along April 4 to Sen. Lankford and his staff was the need to obtain financial resources to pay for upgrades to physical infrastructure in Osage County.

“We can’t grow a whole lot unless we get some things straightened out,” McCartney said. He mentioned that Pawhuska Mayor Roger Taylor talked with the Lankford team about the city’s desire to upgrade or replace its aging water treatment plant.

Taylor said the condition of the Pawhuska water plant was fresh on his mind because of a recent walkthrough of that facility by members of the City Council.

“I had all this on my mind,” Taylor told the newspaper.

District 1 County Commissioner Everett Piper said he wanted to address with Lankford and his staff members the desire to obtain aid for rural water districts in Osage County. He specifically mentioned Rural Water District 21 and Rural Water District 5.

“People need their water and we need to do something about this,” Piper said, characterizing current conditions as a crisis. “People have to have water and we can’t ignore it.”

Piper said the morning of April 6 that Lankford’s office had already been in touch with names and contact numbers for people who could help. Piper said State Rep. Judd Strom had also been helpful.

Piper clarified that he only addressed the issue of water availability for rural residents because he didn’t want to do anything to distract attention from that priority.

Lankford said that while he and his staff spent just a few hours in Osage County, he anticipated they could be responding to what they learned for a number of months.

Photo caption: Local officials met April 4 with U.S. Sen. James Lankford at the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce. Pictured are, from left, Bart Perrier, of Rural Water District 5; Mike McCartney, executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce; Roger Taylor, mayor of Pawhuska; U.S. Sen. James Lankford; District 1 County Commissioner Everett Piper; and Brent Smith of Farm Bureau. Photo by Reba Bueno-Conner of the Pawhuska Chamber.