Oklahoma seeks continued authority to oversee environmental programs in state's Indian territories
Oklahoma is asking the EPA to grant it the authority to continue regulating environmental issues across areas of the state designated as Indian Territory before statehood.
The state seeks the authority under a provision that is part of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) of 2005.
Its request comes as Oklahoma and the Five Tribes continue to discuss ramifications from the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision that Congress failed to dissolve the Creek Nation's reservation in 1907.
While the case dealt specifically with a criminal matter that happened within the Creek Nation's prestate territory, tribal and state officials interpreted its outcome as more broadly applicable to areas of eastern and southern Oklahoma held by the Five Tribes before Oklahoma joined the union in 1907.
“What this does is maintain the status quo for programs Oklahoma administers for the EPA,” said Kenneth Wagner, Oklahoma’s secretary of energy and environment. “We have worked with the tribes for years and years and years on these cooperative programs with the federal government. This isn’t a surprise to the tribes — they are aware of it.”
Under SAFETEA, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler is authorized to grant Oklahoma the continued authority to administer environmental programs his agency previously allowed the state to oversee.
If granted, Oklahoma would continue to have authority to administer environmental programs on lands within the Five Tribes historical territories that aren't Indian allotments, held in trust by the U.S. on behalf of an individual Indian or tribe or owned by a tribe.
Involved programs include:
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• Resource Conservation and Recovery Act programs, including those that govern the handling of hazardous and nonhazardous solid wastes and coal residuals.
• Underground Injection Control oversight programs for wells that pump saltwater or other industrial wastes into subsurface formations.
• Clean Air Act programs including air monitoring and emissions standard rules and lead-based paint oversight programs.
• Clean Water Act programs including sewage and animal feeding operations discharge standards and surface and groundwater rules and water quality standards.
• Underground petroleum storage tank monitoring and remediation programs.
Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have historically overseen those programs.
Wagner noted the state asked for and received authorization to continue administering those programs in 2019 under the SAFETEA measure while justices on the U.S. Supreme Court considered a related case tied to the question of whether or not Congress had officially terminated the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation when Oklahoma became a state.
Oklahoma’s request to Wheeler, sent by Gov. Kevin Stitt, was applauded late Wednesday by the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma.
“Gov. Stitt delivered for all Oklahomans, regardless of whether they are tribal members or non-Indians,” Brook A. Simmons, the alliance’s president, stated as part of a news release. “He acted to make sure trusted and experienced state agencies … can continue to enforce regulations delegated to the state by EPA in Indian country.”