Oklahoma once again finds itself in the center of conflict between state government and the Tribal Nation. Responding to Governor Stitt’s July 22 letter, the EPA recently granted his request for the state’s authority to administer EPA programs in Indian Country. Land situated within the boundaries of the tribal reservation is included in this newly dispensed response of power.
Andrew Wheeler, EPA Administrator, publicized his approval of Stitt’s request on October 1. Over 24 federalized environmental programs were included in the response and can now be administered by the state agencies.
- Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality
- Department of Agriculture
- Food and Forestry
- Water Resources Board
- Oklahoma Corporation Commission
State authority has always served as a crucial tool to the energy industry. In fact, Oklahoma Republican United States Senator, Jim Inhofe, drafted the federal law in 2005 permitting states to pursue environmental control in Indian Country.
“The underlying law is a one-section provision surreptitiously inserted as a midnight rider in the massive (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act) of 2005 that treats Oklahoma tribes differently than other tribes throughout the United States,” said the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. “Like the SAFETEA Act itself, this was a swift move meant to circumvent the federal government’s trust, duty and obligation to consult with the tribal nations concerned.
Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr expressed his disappointment in the Cherokee Nation being ignored in their request to have the EPA consult on an individual basis with affected Oklahoma tribes.
“Unfortunately, the Governor’s decision to invoke a 2005 federal law ignores the longstanding relationships between state agencies and the Cherokee Nation,” said Hoskin, Jr. “All Oklahomans benefit when Tribes and state work together in the spirit of mutual respect and this knee-jerk reaction to curtail Tribal jurisdiction is not productive.”
EPA decision approval
Expressing satisfaction with the EPA decision, Stitt indicated the state’s public health and environment would be better protected. He added that following one consistent set of regulations would ensure certainty and all Oklahomans, including tribal citizens, would benefit.
“As Administrator Wheeler’s letter correctly points out, the State of Oklahoma did not seek to expand or increase its regulation over new areas of the state, but rather to continue to regulate those areas where the state has consistently implemented these environmental programs under the steady oversight of the U.S. EPA,” said Stitt.
Good news for the state’s oil and gas industry
Brook A. Simmons, President of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma, issued a statement praising Administrator and the EPA for the recent decision to provide certainty regarding regulatory concern:
“The Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma had the potential to upend business development in Oklahoma by creating a regulatory patchwork throughout the eastern half of the state. Governor Stitt’s request and Administrator Wheeler’s approval means regulatory authority will remain at trusted and experienced state agencies,” said Simmons. “This provides regulatory certainty for all business, including Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry.”
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected]