Thanks to the hard work of many congressmen and women, the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership (HEARTH) Act of 2012 has been officially signed into law. It was sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico. According to the Congressional Research Service summary, the HEARTH Act:
- Extends to any Indian tribe the discretion granted under current law only to the Navajo Nation to lease restricted lands for business, agricultural, public, religious, educational, recreational or residential purposes without the approval of the secretary of the Department of the Interior. (The secretary must still approve the tribal regulations under which those leases are executed and mining leases still require the secretary’s approval.) Sets forth the environmental review process required under tribal lease regulations before those regulations obtain the secretary’s approval.
- Requires the process to identify and evaluate any significant effects a proposed lease may have on the environment and allow public comment on those effects.
- Authorizes the secretary to provide a tribe, upon the tribe’s request, with technical assistance in developing a regulatory environmental review process.
- Allows tribes to rely on a federal environmental review process rather than the tribal environmental review process if the project under review is federally funded.
- Directs the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to report to Congress on the history and experience of Indian tribes that have chosen to assume the BIA’s responsibility for operating the Indian Land Title and Records Office.
Thanks to the hard work of many tribal leaders and the bill’s 20 co-sponsors, this act is intended to streamline the leasing process and encourage housing and economic development on trust land. Read the National American Indian Housing Council’s statement here.