EPA’s Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples

On April 30, 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced a public comment period to obtain input on a revised draft of the EPA policy on environmental justice for working with federal recognized tribes and indigenous peoples. The public comment period runs from May 5 through June 5, 2014. The revised draft is available at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/environmentaljustice/indigenous/index.html.  In addition to the public comment period, EPA will hold a public outreach conference call on the draft policy on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The conference call, number is 1-866-299-3188, access code 202-564-2576.

The proposed policy, developed after two series of tribal consultations and an initial public comment period, consists of seventeen principles.  These principles, “when implemented individually and together” are intended to “help improve the administration of EPA’s programs, support the fair and effective implementation of federal environmental laws, and provide protection from disproportionate impacts and significant risks to human health and the environment.”  Policy at 1.  The Policy declares that, among other principles, EPA will consult “with tribes and provide [] meaningful involvement opportunities for indigenous peoples and others living in tribal areas” and will seek to be “responsive to the environmental justice concerns of tribes, indigenous peoples, and others living in tribal areas.”  Id. at 3, principles 1 and 2.  The Policy further declares that EPA will encourage “as appropriate and to the extent practicable, the integration of Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the Agency’s environmental science, policy, and decision-making processes to understand and address environmental justice concerns and facilitate program implementation.”  Id.  Principle 6.  EPA affirms that it will consider “confidentiality concerns regarding information on sacred sites and cultural resources, consistent with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.”  Id.  Principle 7.  In addition, the policy “recognizes the right of the tribal governments to self-determination and acknowledges the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribes . . . .”  Policy at 4, Principle 8.  EPA declares that it “recognizes and supports the use of federal, tribal and indigenous peoples’ conflict management and dispute resolution processes and tribal and indigenous peoples’ traditional consensus building and decision making practices, as appropriate, to address disputes and potential conflicts.  Policy at 5, Principle 14.