U.S. Water News Online
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma is suing the Environmental
Protection Agency for allowing an American Indian tribe to create its
own land and water standards.
The lawsuit, filed in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Denver, was filed March 18, the deadline for challenging the EPA's
decision, said Monty Elder, spokeswoman for the Department of
"Our next move is to ask the court to stay the proceedings while
we continue negotiations with the Pawnee Tribe," Elder said.
In November, the EPA granted the tribe "treatment-as-state" status
for water programs. That allows the tribe to determine its own
standards for water flowing through land it owns in Pawnee County.
Elder said the concern is that with 38 tribes, each tribe could
establish water standards either far more restrictive or far more
lenient from the state's.
"I don't know that tribes intend to do that, but the potential for
that exists," Elder said.
Charles Tripp, attorney for the Pawnee Nation, said he understands
"But if you think about it, the United States already has
patchwork regulation. The state of Oklahoma's regulations are
different from those in Arkansas and New Mexico and Texas," Tripp
"If the concern is about ensuring good, high-quality water, I
don't think that's a concern, because the tribes care about having
good water," Tripp said.
Elder said the EPA's granting of treatment-as-state status has
caused problems in at least one other state.
In Albuquerque, N.M., industries discharging into a river had to
meet two standards: one set by the state, the other set by a tribe.
Elder said her agency doesn't oppose tribes obtaining
"What we're concerned about is that we have consistent and
protective regulatory standards across the state," Elder said.
As of November, eight to 12 other Oklahoma tribes had sought to be
treated as states by the EPA. No more have been granted that status,
Tripp said the Pawnee Nation would create regulations at least as
restrictive as the state's.
"It's quite possible that the state fears tribes will make
regulations that are too restrictive," Tripp said.
Tripp said he remains confused by the state's lawsuit because it
came a week after his meeting with Oklahoma Environment Secretary
"I thought we were in the middle of negotiating a system that
would be beneficial for everybody," Tripp said. "To turn around and
file a lawsuit indicates there was no good faith to the negotiations,
but instead it was a stalling tactic."
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