LUMMI NATION (WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an inter agency agreement on Tribal treaty rights and other initiatives designed to advance tribal sovereignty and self-determination. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced this and other initiatives to improve human health and the environment on Indian reservations in remarks at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington.
“The Obama Administration has worked hard to foster an abiding culture of respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-determination across the federal government,” said Administrator McCarthy. “The initiatives we are announcing today will help institutionalize the great progress we’ve made in recent years.”
Under the Constitution, treaties are part of the supreme law of the land, with the same legal force and effect as federal statutes. That’s why EPA announced a Memorandum of Understanding on interagency coordination and collaboration to advance protection of tribal treaty and similar rights related to natural resources affected by agency decisions. This MOU stems in part from EPA’s recent “Guidance for Discussing Tribal Treaty Rights,” an effort to encourage consideration of treaty rights in the agency’s consultation policy. The memorandum will be available for signature by federal agencies on a rolling basis. The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation have so far signed the MOU.
EPA also announced the expansion of the Local Environmental Observers Network program, a concept tribal communities initiated and championed, beyond its current reach in Alaska and the Arctic region, and into the lower 48 states. This expansion will develop a lower-48 LEO network hub at Northwest Indian College located north of Bellingham WA on Lummi Nation and create a model for the other 35 tribal colleges and universities in the lower 48 to replicate across the U.S.
The LEO network is a network of local observers and topic experts who share on-the-ground knowledge about unusual animal, environmental and weather events. The network uses valuable traditional and local knowledge to help observe and report changes in the local environment. Available Android and iPhone mobile apps give users a powerful reporting tool to use in the field. President of Northwest Indian College, Dr. Justin Guillory, a descendent of the Nez Perce tribe, is encouraged by this new partnership, noting: “The expansion of the LEO program into tribal colleges and universities is a recognition of the important roles TCUs serve throughout North America. We are humbled and honored to be identified as the first college to serve in this capacity and look forward to contributing to this important initiative.”
Department Chair of the Native Environmental Science Program, Dr. Emma Norman, who is overseeing the expansion, understands this as an important opportunity for students and community members alike: “NWIC is well poised to contribute to the LEO expansion; place-based observation is a central component of our teaching methods and practice. Our students are routinely in the field, documenting environmental change and problem solving community-based solutions; additionally, the communities that we serve have deep and sustained connections to and knowledge of their homelands. This place-based lens will contribute to the depth and significance of the observations made throughout the network, and will provide opportunities to focus on social and environmental justice issues currently facing Indigenous nations. We are thrilled to be able to join this important network and provide a platform for our tribal colleges and universities to contribute their observations”.
Administrator McCarthy also reiterated EPA’s commitment to help close the gap in water quality protections on Indian reservations. Last week, the administrator signed an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to invite comments on whether to extend water quality standards effective under the Clean Water Act to all tribes with reservations. Fewer than 50, out of more than 300 tribes with reservations, currently have such water quality standards. Last week, Administrator McCarthy also signed a rule that significantly streamlines requirements for tribes to receive treatment as a state (TAS) to administer Clean Water Act regulatory programs.
The administrator also recently signed a rule to establish procedures for eligible tribes to obtain the authority, under the Clean Water Act section 303(d) program, to identify impaired waters on their reservations; and to establish total maximum daily loads of contaminants that can be discharged into those waters. This will allow each tribe to meet their own water quality standards.
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