indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Dynamic Homes
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
EPA case on tribal sovereignty attracts attention
Tuesday, June 7, 2005

An Oklahoma tribe's attempt to assert sovereignty on environmental matters is attracting attention, and generating concerns, among state officials, other tribes and members of Congress.

For the past seven years, the Pawnee Nation has been seeking the authority to regulate water within its territory. Under the Clean Water Act, Congress has recognized the right of tribes to develop and enforce their own standards.

Since 1998, when amendments to the law went into effect, only about 20 tribes have been granted "treatment as state" status. It's a long and complicated process that often draws objections from state officials, non-Indians and private interests.

The Pawnee Nation's case is no different. State officials are objecting to the tribe's request, key lawmakers are keeping a close eye on the debate and at least one tribe is worried tribal rights are in danger.

In November 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave its approval to the Pawnee Nation, concluding that the tribe "has demonstrated capability to implement the water quality standards" under the law. The EPA noted that the tribe's jurisdiction is limited to its own lands and not to individual Indian allotments.

The decision prompted the state of Oklahoma to file a lawsuit against the EPA in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in March. The state fears that the other tribes in the state might seek the same status, resulting in dozens of different, and possibly competing, standards.

So far, 12 Oklahoma tribes have asked the EPA for the same authority but none have been granted. To address potential concerns, several tribes are talking about creating a uniform standards for all tribal lands in the state.

The lack of approvals for Oklahoma tribes hasn't stopped Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) from stepping in. As chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over EPA, he requested an investigation into the handling of treatment as state applications in the state.

No reports have been released but just last month, the House passed a $26.2 billion appropriations bill that includes language about the case. "The Committee will watch with interest the resolution of this issue," the House Appropriations Committee wrote in a report accompanying the bill, which passed by a 329-89 vote on May 19.

The case is currently in mediation but the tribe is not a party to it. Beyond the state's initial filing, no new briefs have been filed by either the state or the Department of Justice.

The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, however, is seeking to intervene, saying that tribal sovereignty is at risk if the court sides with the state. The tribe plans to apply its own standards to water within Tar Creek, an EPA Superfund site contaminated by over 70 million tons of mine waste.

"Not only could all Oklahoma tribes lose the ability to manage tribal water resources in a case in which no tribal interests were represented, but the Quapaw Tribe faces the real possibility that tribal authority ... could effectively be withdrawn before its own application for treatment as a state is even heard."

The EPA has previously been challenged by states and the private industry over treatment as state designations in Michigan, Wisconsin and New Mexico. But so far, the appeals courts have ruled that Congress acted within its powers to recognize tribal sovereignty.

The most recent case involved a tribe in Wisconsin whose water standards exceeded those of the state and thus would affect activities that occur off-reservation. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the tribe in September 2001 and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case in June 2002.

An earlier case involved treatment as state designations under the Clean Air Act. The power industry and states challenged the EPA but the Supreme Court refused to hear the dispute back in 2001.

Separately, the Bush administration has affirmed the power of tribes to define their own standards to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Navajo Nation and the Northern Ute Tribe of Utah were approved under a Clean Air Act rule finalized by the EPA in March.

The appropriations bill passed by the House last month has yet to be taken up by the Senate. The full language in regard to the Pawnee case reads as follows:
The Committee is aware that the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma has applied for treatment as a State status under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the `Clean Water Act') and that the issue is currently under litigation. The Committee will watch with interest the resolution of this issue.

EPA Documents:
Approval Letter & Decision Document | Response to Comments

2006 Appropriations Bill:
H.R.2361 | House Report 109-080

Relevant Links:
Pawnee Nation - http://www.pawneenation.org
Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality - http://www.deq.state.ok.us

Related Stories:
Oklahoma challenges EPA on tribal sovereignty (05/02)
EPA seeks to reduce mercury from power plants (03/16)
EPA rulings worry tribal, state officials in Oklahoma (07/26)
Tribal authority challenge denied (6/4)
U.S. backs tribal environmental rights (5/15)
Mine near Wis. reservation upheld (1/30)
Wis. tribe has hopes after cyanide ban (11/7)
State fighting tribal water ruling (11/6)
Wis. might appeal Ojibwe decision (9/25)
Challenge to tribal authority rejected (9/24)
Court rejects challenge to tribal authority (4/17)
EPA Budget: No new tribal grants (4/13)
Pueblo battles arsenic in water standard (4/16)
EPA attorney pleads guilty (06/28)

Copyright 2000-2005 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Treaty defenders to see Keystone fight to end (3/5)
Charmaine White Face: Radioactivity found in Pine Ridge waters (3/5)
Winona LaDuke: Consider marijuana and hemp in Indian Country (3/5)
Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe launches marijuana project (3/5)
Measure reaffirms Navajo Nation policy against legal marijuana (3/5)
Lynn Armitage: Housing program aids Native violence survivors (3/5)
Oglala Sioux Tribe bans attorney in racial hockey game incident (3/5)
Military halted dig on island after questions from Pechanga Band (3/5)
Cash lenders accused of targeting tribal members in New Mexico (3/5)
Opponents not happy with land-into-trust bill for Chumash Tribe (3/5)
County can't stop Shingle Springs Band from opening gun range (3/5)
Mississippi Choctaws hold ribbon-cutting at $55M health center (3/5)
Indian skateboarding exhibit travels to Umatilla Tribes museum (3/5)
Some youth removed at center on Yerington Paiute Reservation (3/5)
Nita Battise sworn in as new leader of Alabama-Coushatta Tribe (3/5)
Laguna Pueblo supports Class III casino compact in New Mexico (3/5)
Seminole Tribe seeks approval for 537-room casino hotel tower (3/5)
Narragansett Tribe loses decision in non-Indian gaming dispute (3/5)
Ex-lawyer sentenced in Twenty-Nine Palms Band gaming scam (3/5)
Defendant pleas in robbery at Saginaw Chippewa Tribe's casino (3/5)
Editorial: Mohegan Tribe hits milestone with gaming enterprise (3/5)
Native News News: Ojibwe flautist shares message with music (3/4)
Audio: Senate Indian Affairs Committee takes up IRRIGATE Act (3/4)
9th Circuit to consider Medicine Lake sacred site dispute again (3/4)
Winona LaDuke: Ingrid Washinawatok's vision remains strong (3/4)
Tim Ballew: Northwest Indian College builds on tribal traditions (3/4)
Steven Newcomb: Domination doctrine and the Quinault Nation (3/4)
Stanley Heller: Help eliminate an Indian mascot in Connecticut (3/4)
Editorial: Mascot reflects history of violence and discrimination (3/4)
Column: Work with tribes in Washington on marijuana industry (3/4)
Navajo Nation files human rights petition to protect sacred site (3/4)
Senate fails to override Obama's veto of Keystone XL measure (3/4)
Yakama Nation woman fights tribe for custody of 12-year-old (3/4)
Chumash Tribe cheers introduction of land-into-trust measure (3/4)
Leader of Chippewa Cree Tribe ousted from office for 3rd time (3/4)
Yurok Tribe planning to debut new justice facility in the spring (3/4)
UTTC president named to panel to choose new UND nickname (3/4)
Another lawsuit filed over former federal judge's racist emails (3/4)
Cowlitz Tribe still waiting for BIA to place gaming site in trust (3/4)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe hails decision in gaming dispute (3/4)
Mohegan Tribe remains interested in new casino near border (3/4)
Mashantucket Tribe joins gaming proposal in Massachusetts (3/4)
Opinion: Florida gaming expansion bill leads to less gaming (3/4)
Native Sun News: Mine proposed near Black Hills sacred site (3/3)
Native youth send video message to Obama on Keystone XL (3/3)
Lummi Nation leader moves ahead with tribal cannabis group (3/3)
BIA to award another $8M in Tribal Climate Resilience grants (3/3)
DOI to host listening session on buy-back program in Arizona (3/3)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets hearing on IRRIGATE Act (3/3)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation improves notification system (3/3)
Patty Talahongva: Native youth become Champions for Change (3/3)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.