Back to Publications

Tribal Authority to Regulate Air Quality

Jeanette Wolfley, Air Quality Regulation for the Natural Resources Industry (2000)

Federal environmental laws generally require the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to set standards for various sources of pollution, to enforce those standards through permitting systems, and where a state so requests, to delegate primary enforcement authority to that state. As originally enacted, most federal environmental laws did not mention Indian tribes or reservation lands, and none of them provided for direct participation by tribal governments. Congress' omission involved about a million people residing on near fifty-six million acres of land belonging to 281 tribal reservations which reflect the full range of environmental issues and problems faced by the rest of the nation.1 Over the past decade, however, Congress has begun addressing legislatively how and by whom the environment of Indian reservations would be regulated under the federal environmental laws. Congress has enacted tribal amendments to major federal environmental laws — the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, which clarify the role to be played by tribal governments.

The air quality in Indian communities has increasingly been degraded by sources and activities, including tribal businesses, manufacturing and processing companies, increasing road traffic, and the influx of new busines