Flaring can be seen from a drilling rig on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News Today
Flaring can be seen from a drilling rig on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News Today
Infrastructure bill weakens environmental protections on tribal lands
Friday, August 27, 2021

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the infrastructure bill [H.R.3684] that is going through Congress. The bill has a lot of good things in it that will benefit American infrastructure, but with the good there is also bad.

Snuck into the bill are provisions that weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA is the most important law providing safeguards for indigenous communities like Fort Berthold in North Dakota.

NEPA requires more involvement of federal agencies for major projects on trust land. NEPA also directs federal agencies to assess potential environmental effects of proposed actions significantly affecting the environment, human and otherwise and to inform the public about these assessments, sometimes through an environmental impact statement. This is important for all projects but particularly for oil and gas development on tribal lands like my home in Mandaree.

Lisa DeVille
Lisa DeVille, far right, addresses the Native Nations Rise rally in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Because of NEPA, tribal citizens hear about potential impacts and can respond to the proposed projects via public comment periods. If NEPA is weakened, so is the safety of me, my family, and my people. Our health and well-being are already threatened by existing development, so the government shouldn’t allow more projects to be approved with even worse standards.

The infrastructure bill includes pieces that put federal lands, including tribal lands at risk by limiting the length of important sections of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) such as the “alternatives analysis” and granting only two years to complete the environmental review process, one of many “shot clocks” for NEPA review that will limit how thorough the environmental review processes will be and so, putting me and all other tribal citizens at risk.

NEPA should only be made stronger to protect the health of federal lands, especially those held in trust by the government for tribes. I hope the US Congress does what’s best for me and my people and removes the changes that weaken NEPA.

Lisa DeVille, an environmental activist, is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. She is a charter member of Fort Berthold POWER, a group formed to protect the land, water and air on the Fort Berthold Reservation, her home community. She is also a member of the Dakota Resource Council, whose mission is to promote sustainable use of North Dakota’s natural resources and agriculture. She resides on her reservation in Mandaree.