Controversial EPA decision gives Oklahoma governor regulatory power over tribal lands

Andrew Wheeler.
(Image credit: USAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's (R) request to re-establish regulatory control over environmental issues on certain tribal lands, TYT reported Monday after obtaining a letter from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler that outlines the decision.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court's decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma determined the Creek Nation's reservation in eastern Oklahoma "had not been disestablished by Congress and remained Indian country under federal law," which would impede the state from implementing regulatory programs in that area. But a 2005 statute specific to Oklahoma, Wheeler's letter explains, requires the EPA administrator to approve a request from the state to implement the regulatory program "in areas of the state that are in Indian country, without any further demonstration of authority by the state," should that request meet certain requirements.

Wheeler noted the decision includes only areas of tribal land where Oklahoma had administered regulatory programs before McGirt, while those that were previously excluded will remain so.

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Still, the decision seems likely to stir controversy, as TYT notes Oklahoma would have the ability to dump hazardous waste on on tribal lands, among other potentially dangerous environmental actions. The EPA consulted various tribes whose land would be affected by the decision in the last few weeks, acknowledging that the tribes questioned the limited and brief consultation period. Read more at TYT, as well as Wheeler's letter and the summary of the tribal consultation.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.