WASHINGTON On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would withdraw and reconsider the Trump administration’s decision to give Oklahoma authority to deal with environmental issues on tribal lands. The decision was made after consultation with the 38 tribal nations.
The agency would reverse a decision made by Andrew Wheeler, then-EPA Administrator, in October 2020. This decision was made after Kevin Stitt, Republican Oklahoma Governor, requested that the state and not tribal nations be allowed to regulate environmental issues on land within historical tribal reservation boundaries.
Stitts had requested the authority in July 2020 after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma case https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-oklahoma/u-s-supreme-court-deems-half-of-oklahoma-a-native-american-reservation-idUSKBN24A268 that a large part of eastern part of the state would be considered Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation land. The McGirt-v. Oklahoma case was focused on the question of criminal jurisdiction.
Assistant Administrator for International Affairs Jane Nishida said that concerns remain with our sovereign Tribal partners about EPAs previous decision as well as the consultation process used in reaching it. We have taken care to address their concerns and we are committed to ensuring robust consultation in all policy decisions affecting Tribal countries.
In April, the Biden administration began informal discussions with Oklahoma tribes to determine if they should have more control over environmental regulations in the eastern half the oil-rich state. It began formal government-to-government tribal consultations in June.
Tribes complained that they were not consulted before Trump’s decision.
Oklahoma Republican government https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/biden-admin-discusses-tribes-broader-oversight-oil-rich-oklahoma-2021-04-14 sources told Reuters in April that it was concerned the state risks losing control of a big tax base and about regulation of natural resource extraction and industry if jurisdiction remains with tribes.
Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas production occurs in the western portion of the state. However some fields can also be found in the eastern part.
The EPA will allow comments on its withdrawal plan until January 31, 2022. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing and editing by Aurora Ellis